New Brunswick

Saint John churches rally in support of Syrian refugees

Lila Rahmeh, who came to Canada from Syria over three years ago, said she was overwhelmed to see so many people come out in support of Syrian refugees on Thursday at Market Square. Saint John Cares featured three high school choirs, readings, and accounts from two Syrian refugees now living in the city, one of whom was Rahmeh.

Syrian Lila Rahmeh said she was touched by the outpouring of support at the Saint John Cares event

Lila Rahmeh is a Syrian who came to New Brunswick three and a half years ago. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Lila Rahmeh, who came to Canada from Syria over three years ago, said she was overwhelmed to see so many people come out in support of Syrian refugees on Thursday at Saint John's Market Square.

The event, called Saint John Cares, featured music from three high school choirs, readings, and accounts from two Syrian refugees now living in the city, one of whom was Rahmeh.

"It makes my heart melt," said Rahmeh. "I'm really so touched, [so] impressed by how much kindness I'm seeing … people coming over and asking me questions and wanting to learn and that's … huge."

Canada can be my home and it can be home for the other families.- Lila Rahmeh, Syrian refugee

She said when she first came to Canada, she never expected the trouble in her native land to last so long.

"I thought it would be a matter of a few months … We are safe here but just thinking about people … the other families that will be here, and I am hoping they will be here soon."

Rahmeh said she is happy the Canadian government has committed to bringing in 25,0000 refugees and she has noticed how engaged Canadians have become about the plight of Syrians. 

"Just the sense of the help, and that the government is open to bringing families, makes me feel like I chose the right place to come and stay. Canada can be my home and it can be home for the other families that will be here."

Bishop Robert Harris of the Catholic Diocese of Saint John, who helped to organize the event was hopeful Saint John Cares would attract people who want to get involved in sponsoring refugee families. 

"I've heard from individuals who said to me, 'I keep seeing the need and I haven't done anything yet,' so there are probably people out there who would … want to start doing something, either in the way of offering support to the emergency situation in the Middle East, or actually sponsoring families in our community."

There's been an outpouring of interest ever since the image of a drowned young boy caught the world's attention.

Hopefully this will attract other people to participate.- Bishop Robert Harris

Harris says he has been approached by approximately 150 people from 28 parishes in the Saint John Diocese who want to help in some way.

Parishes in Fredericton and Saint John have twinned together to collect the $27,000 needed to sponsor a family of four, he said.

"It doesn't just have to be Catholic churches, they could twin with another church … to support that family for a year," said Harris.

"In addition they have to be there 24/7 for a whole year, being there to support the family that arrives, make sure they're cared for and have a home to live in, that they have furniture, food, that the children go to school, that the parents learn English … and we have people in our community who have done this in the past."

The event was created after a group representing various Christian churches met in Saint John last week.

They were looking at how local organizations can respond to the Syrian crisis, which has resulted in 11 million displaced people.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum confirmed that bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year's end remains a "firm objective" of the government.

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