The program developed by the Archdiocese of Montreal is among the initiatives discussed at a symposium on the role of churches and organizations in refugee sponsorship. The event was held in Brussels on September 18 and 19.
The person who oversees private sponsorship and the program for asylum seekers at the Archdiocese, Alessandra Santopadre, represented the Church of Montreal during the two days in the Belgian capital. The symposium brought together experts from various countries and organizations, such as Caritas Internationalis, the International Catholic Migration Commission and the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe.
"The focus was placed on the Canadian sponsorship program and on how the churches of the Archdiocese of Montreal took charge of the sponsorship program," explained Ms. Santopadre. This was her first experience at such an event.
She explained to the other participants how the Archdiocese got involved in private sponsorship thanks to the encouragement of the Archbishop, Most Reverend Christian Lépine, and to the commitment of the parishes.
In fact, since two years ago, no less than 47 parishes from the Archdiocese of Montreal stepped up to the plate to join in this effort to host refugees. Among them, 22 took charge of families through private sponsorship. Nine parishes have already had the opportunity to welcome and host the Syrian families they sponsored. Such a commitment requires raising between $7,000 and $14,000, depending on the size of the family.
"I witnessed the willingness and generosity with which these pastors and parishioners welcomed the refugees. It involves accompaniment that includes providing financial support and assistance with finding a home, a school with a francization program and a school for the children. I tried to explain all of this at the conference," said Ms. Santopadre.
According to her, the experience in Montreal is particularly marked by the support of the Church authorities. Listening to the other participants, she got the impression that this kind of support is not necessarily given everywhere else in the world.
"I saw how blessed I was to have the support of the Archbishop and parishioners. I felt that not everyone was as lucky. Our bishops are touched by this reality and have the ability to share this issue and reality with the parishioners. In retrospect, I realized that the Archdiocese mobilized with a display of great commitment and generosity towards the refugees," she said.
She attributes this in part to the way Canada manages its flow of refugees.
"We are not experiencing the same degree of migratory emergency as in Europe," she pointed out. "Italy took in more than 100,000 refugees last year! In that context, there are constantly emergencies that need to be dealt with immediately. This is not the case in Canada. Our system for regulating the migratory flow allows us to properly manage our sponsorship program. We decide how many people can arrive each year. This enables us to properly manage their arrival and integration."
But Canada also received an unexpected stream of newcomers in August, when many crossed the Canada-U.S. border. To meet the needs of some of these asylum seekers, the Archdiocese will open the doors of the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Presbytery as of October 2. She had also summarily presented this project in Brussels. The most vulnerable - pregnant women and single mothers - will be given shelter there.