This year marks the 55th Anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Do you remember a Development and Peace-Caritas Canada campaign or activity which touched your heart? Each week during Lent we will feature one such story.
By Bernice Daratha, Development and Peace-Caritas Canada diocesan committee
The 2019 Share Lent campaign invited parishes to share the journey with ‘forced migrants’ (according to the United Nations count the number stood at approximately 80 million at the time).
At St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon, the Development and Peace-Caritas Canada (DPCC) team organized a short walk, a rice and beans lunch, and two talking circles during which recent refugee families from the parish shared their experiences and answered questions from parishioners.
This experience touched the hearts of those present. In tears, one of the parishioners said, “I don’t think that I can listen to another story – they experienced so much suffering.”
Another parishioner stated, “It was an outstanding experience of hearing stories of brutality but yet survival. It showed the amazing capacity of people to survive in hopeless situations. And these people are now members of our parish community!”
Below is a brief recap of experiences of the refugees as told once again during recent follow-up interviews:
The story of Bu Reh, Pu Meh, Roselin Pray Meh and family
What’s your story? Due to civil war, I (Bu Reh) escaped from my home country of Myanmar, Karenni State, at night and walked four days to a refugee camp in Thailand in 1999. I was fifteen years old and lived in the camp with other family members for sixteen years. We appreciated the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies. In 2015, we were sponsored by the Canadian government, and we came to Saskatoon because we had friends here.
How are you doing now? The beginning was difficult – learning English, finding out how to use the bus system, locating a parish, etc. Now family members are working or going to school; we drive and we are members of St. Mary’s parish. We enjoy driving to parks and to the river or to the lakes to have a barbeque and to fish.
How did you feel about sharing your story with fellow parishioners? We were glad to do this. We met our pastor and eventually our children received the sacraments.
How is life in Myanmar now? There is daily civil conflict between the people and the military; homes are destroyed and lives are lost. It makes us very sad.
Concluding comments: We thank God that we are in a safe country which has given us a better life.
The story of Kyala and Faustin Mutongolo and family:
What’s your story? In 1996, war started in our village in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was training as a nurse and Faustin, my husband, was teaching in a school. The war between the rebels and soldiers continued on and off during a four-year period. Violence, tribal racism and insecurity resulted. We tried to escape. By 2010, Faustin, myself and our five children, ended up in a refugee camp in Zambia. Life in the camp was difficult – dirty water, lack of food, no work, disease. An employee for the UNHCR came and interviewed me. At the time, I had malaria and was feeling very hopeless. Our story was shared with countries willing to take refugees. We were chosen by the Canadian government to come to Saskatoon, Canada, in 2013.
How are you doing now? In the beginning, the weather and learning English were our biggest challenges. The government and so many other agencies helped us, i.e. Open Door, Global Gathering Place, St. Mary’s Parish. After six months I could speak some English and obtained work as a caregiver.
How did you feel about sharing your story with fellow parishioners? We were happy to share our story because many parishioners don’t know the stories of refugees.
How is life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now? The conflict has moved to the north now.
Concluding comments: We thank God that we were able to come to this peaceful country, and that life has been good for us and, we hope, for the next generation.
Word of Thanks
Thanks to St. Mary Parish Development and Peace team at that time who helped to put on the event – Ana Marin, Dulce Reyes, Reanne Lajeunesse, Michelle LaBrash, Jocelyn and Marcel D’Eon, and Bernice Daratha.
A historical note:
“In 1967, the Canadian bishops launched the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace as a creative new way to assist the poor and oppressed peoples of the world in their struggle for justice…To realize this vision, the new organization devoted many of its resources to building an integrated social movement that educated Canadians about global injustice and mobilized them for action…The origins of Development and Peace were at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Working closely with their colleagues from Latin America, Africa and Asia, the Canadian bishops became increasingly aware of the massive poverty and systemic injustices that confronted the developing world…” – Page 13 of the book Jubilee, 50 Years of Solidarity by Peter Baltutis.