British Columbia

B.C. Armenian church celebrates Orthodox Christmas with sponsored refugees

Syrians who came to Canada say their prayers are simple: thanks for safety in Canada and a chance for a new life.

'We are here ... safe, and that's the biggest thing that we needed,' says Syrians who came to Canada

St. Gregory Armenian Church in Richmond B.C. has sponsored 35 Syrian refugee families in the past year. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Ara Strak says he and his family are marking Orthodox Christmas with prayers of gratitude even while the memory of fleeing from his bombed-out apartment in Aleppo is still fresh in his minds.

He and a handful of other Syrian refugees sponsored by Richmond B.C.'s St. Gregory Armenian Church attended services there this weekend.

Syrian refugee Ara Strak says he and his family marked Orthodox Christmas with prayers of thanks for their safety in Canada after fleeing war-torn Aleppo. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"We are here ... safe, and that's the biggest thing that we needed in our life," said Strak.

The church has sponsored 35 families over the past year.

"A lot of adjustments that they have to do, culture is different, the language is different, education system is different, settling really nicely, a lot of them are relieved they are out of Syria," said Eddie Papazian who works with the sponsorship committee for the church.

The church hopes to support more refugees and has plans to welcome another 20 people in the next few months.

A member of the St. Gregory Armenian Church prays at an Orthodox Christmas service on Sunday, Jan.8, 2017. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"If you live in the war, you see that the important thing in your life is your safety and your family's safety is the first," said Strak in thanks to his new congregation.

He along with other refugees hope they can play a role in welcoming the next wave of refugees sponsored by the church.

"To help others and feel comfortable, like others, how they helped us," said Rita Koujian.

with files from Tina Lovgreen