After fleeing war-ravaged Iraq, then enduring nine years in limbo in Jordan while seeking asylum, an Australian Christmas ‘miracle’ awaited single father Yousif and his daughter Angelina.
Yousif, now 35, and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina arrived in Australia on Christmas Eve in 2018 and were warmly welcomed into their Blue Mountains community, right from the moment they were picked up at Sydney Airport by Faulconbridge locals.
At last, they were secure. It was the start of their new life in their newly adoptive country, and they were here to stay.
Since then, they have been ushered into their new world with many helping hands and hearts.
They have been helped to find their own home, a school, a job; they’ve been invited to play dates, afternoon teas and dinners; they’ve been ferried to appointments, sporting clubs and after-school activities, and helped with red tape involved in setting up life from scratch in a new land.
In short, they have been made to feel at home.
“As a refugee (asylum seeker) in Jordan you cannot work and you cannot study,” said Yousif. “You do nothing. You are living for an unknown future, just sitting there and waiting for a miracle to happen.”
He credits his strong Christian faith with helping him to get through his ordeal.
“Reading the Bible gives you hope. You always praise God that you are in good health and breathing. Many people lose their hope but I kept hoping and praying and trusting in God. I praise God that he brought me to the Blue Mountains.”
The ‘miracle’ that followed their acceptance as refugees by Australia was all part of a major initiative by CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to make newcomers feel welcomed as members of the community.
The Catholic Church’s social services arm reaches out to assist people seeking protection and refugee families of all backgrounds and faiths and works with its own parish churches as well as those of other denominations.
“This is all about bringing them into a community at a personal level; inviting a refugee family to be supported by a church community rather than be reliant on other organisations,” says Celia Vagg, coordinator of CatholicCare’s Springwood Drop-In Centre.
CatholicCare also organises Community Conversations with Refugees as part of the Diocesan Refugee Journey, which shares the plight and experiences of people seeking protection.
Typically, two refugees will speak about their lives and experiences seeking asylum.
Experts from refugee organisations like the Jesuit Refugee Service, Sydney Alliance and House Of Welcome are also on hand to answer questions and explain issues.
“It’s a learning opportunity, particularly for people who have not been exposed to refugees and their stories,” says Celia.
“Challenging and difficult questions are encouraged. The bigger goal is to open hearts by hearing directly from refugees.”
Community Conversations can be designed for one church or parish, such as the one held at St Monica’s Richmond which drew 80 people, or for all churches in an area, such as an ecumenical weekend held in Springwood which attracted 180 people. They can also be open to a whole community, as was the event hosted by Sacred Heart Parish in Blackheath which drew a crowd of 120.
“Trying to achieve social justice goals can feel too big to address, but working together with community great things can happen,” says Celia.
“Seeing Yousif and Angelina and the community around them is just beautiful, and such a privilege to be part of.”
CatholicCare Western Sydney is a service of the Diocese of Parramatta. It shows the compassionate face of Jesus to all and offers a range of services to people in need. To find out more about Community Conversations contact (02) 8843 2545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ccss.org.au/springwood-centre.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.