What can we do about the refugee crisis? In Montreal, the Archdiocese has been running a sponsorship program for several years.
Alessandra Santopadra's cell phone has been ringing off the hook. Assistant to Father Pierangelo Paternieri at the Office of Cultural and Ritual Communities, she works with refugees and their families.
"The Archdiocese of Montreal has been running a sponsorship program for several years, but now, with the crises in Syria and Africa, we have been receiving many more requests," she said. The Archdiocese helps families here to successfully bring over their families that are in refugee camps in Lebanon, and also in Africa, where war has been raging in several regions; it is the families here, however, that become the refugees' sponsors.
The Archdiocese, for its part, establishes an agreement with the family here to help them with all the paperwork - which is not an easy task. The Archdiocese is responsible for the refugees, but once they arrive here, the family takes care of them with the support of the Archdiocese.
"The family that applies for refugee sponsorship gives an amount of money to the Archdiocese - a minimum of $7000. Then, the Archdiocese gives this amount, divided into 12-month installments, to the refugees. The government requires the host family to be legally responsible for the refugees' well-being and settlement; it must ensure their housing, food, clothing, their children's enrollment in school, and help them in their process of learning French and finding employment (for the adults). All this applies to the entire first year, during which the refugees are not eligible for social assistance."
During this period when the refugees are establishing their new lives, the Archdiocese works toward finding assistance to help them meet their needs. Numerous parishes throughout the archdiocese of Montreal provide assistance through various community organizations, food banks, and volunteer centres.
"The Archdiocese verifies that the parishes that take in the refugees provide them with all their necessities. I am the first to meet with the parishes, and we try to inform them on how to welcome these people. I am very familiar with Montreal's assistance network, having worked as a social pastoral agent (PCL) for a long time."
Since Pope Francis appealed to all the parishes to host refugees, the Archdiocese has been receiving more sponsorship requests: "We have a list of people throughout the parishes that wish to help. Presently, we are asking the parishes to assist financially through their parish council which signs a contract with the Archdiocese making them responsible for the refugee family."
According to Alessandra Santopadre, the families or parishes that apply to sponsor refugees must be patient: "It can take up to a year, even two, before the refugee family arrives, either from Africa or the Middle East. It can be daunting to wait so long, especially for those who are in a refugee camp, living in very difficult conditions. And, once the family is here, the year of accompaniment begins. It is very demanding for refugees. They have experienced war and suffered traumas. Sponsorship therefore also involves psychological and spiritual accompaniment. It is a more lengthy and discreet process. The Archdiocese attempts to be present throughout this process as well."
The government establishes a quota of refugees per organization. The Archdiocese of Montreal is limited to 75 sponsorships per year. It is Alessandra Santopadre's opinion that presently, because of the crisis, this quota is not sufficient. "We must ensure that the people here can properly welcome and accompany the refugees. We are therefore continuing to instruct the parishes. Up to now, we have drawn a wonderful response. We can tell that the people want to help. They want to do something."
To offer help, sponsor a family, or get more information: Alessandra Santopadre 514-925-4300 poste 295 or firstname.lastname@example.org