A priest and an imam walk into a Moroccan restaurant in Gatineau.
What sounds like the beginning of a bad joke is actually the genesis of two faith groups coming together to help Syrian refugees.
Father Michel Lacroix and Imam Ahmed Limame headed into that Gatineau restaurant recently to firm up plans for the sponsorship of two Syrian families, one Christian and one Muslim, both currently living in Lebanon.
The priest and the imam lead a Christian-Muslim dialogue committee in Gatineau that first came together after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
At first, this partnership seems rather odd — an elderly, French-Canadian priest and a young, North African imam with six kids — but the friendship endured and sponsoring refugees seemed a natural extension.
"The bonds are firmer this way. I think that it's very important we have a Christian family and Muslim family," said Lacroix.
Limame said the faith group will play a role in the families' integration that goes well beyond raising the $33,000 they already have waiting in an account.
The money came from congregations of churches and mosques, as well as individual donations from throughout west Quebec.
"We will welcome them at the airport. We'll make sure they settle slowly in the community. We'll bring them to a place where they can buy their groceries or find an apartment or find a church or mosque," said Limame.
'A lot of prejudices fall'
Pierrot Lambert, a Catholic member of the dialogue group, is helping with paperwork.
He said it's a big responsibility for two very different religious communities to take on together, but Lambert said they're all committed to helping these people they don't even know yet.
'I have a lot of friends who say: Why do you get involved with this? The Muslims, they have a hidden agenda.'
- Father Michel Lacroix
"We were thinking of doing something for the community, but this year with the [refugee] crisis, we thought we had to do something for refugees, to get involved. That means they're not just brought to Canada by the government," said Lambert.
These people breaking bread together at the Gatineau restaurant, some wearing crosses and others hijabs, have formed a union to be admired, but the Imam and the priest are not naive. They realize this unique partnership is not universally appreciated.
"I have a lot of friends who say: 'Why do you get involved with this? The Muslims, they have a hidden agenda'," said Lacroix.
"And working with them, I'm sure they don't have a hidden agenda. A lot of prejudices fall when you know them, when you get involved. I'm proud to say I have Muslim friends."
The imam said similar prejudices held by some of his followers have disappeared too.
"We are not trying to make a cocktail of two religions. That would be unethical and unproductive," said Limame.
"I always say, before being a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Jewish, we are human and we find our common humanity in this kind of effort."
The group is hoping to welcome the two Syrian refugee families in the new year.