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Clongowes says goodbye to Syrian family

Last Christmas a Syrian family came to live in the Cappolis Cottage of Clongowes Wood College SJ in County Kildare through the efforts of the Jesuit community and Parish of Clane and Rathcoffey. It was a direct response to Pope Francis’ call to accommodate families fleeing from danger in their native land. The El Sheblak family’s stay at the cottage was then extended from 2 to 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Parish committee have now found the family new accommodation in Clane village closer to shops and schools. Fr Michael Sheil SJ, Rector of Clongowes, reflects on the community’s response in helping the El Sheblaks adjust to Irish life. He is sad to see them leave the grounds of Clongowes but is also glad for their relocation to another part of the community. Read his full account below.

Answering Pope Francis’ call – A parish community’s response

Saturday, 12 December 2020, was a sad day for us in Clongowes as we bade good-bye to our nearest neighbours… but we did so with joy in our hearts – glad to be sad!

What a strange conflict of emotions, you may say… Well, read on!

Some years ago – at the height of the Mediterranean refugee crisis – when Pope Francis called on parish communities to take in families fleeing from danger in their native land – Ireland accepted to take a share of these long-suffering refugees.

Our local community – under the inspiration of Fr Paul O’Boyle, our Parish Priest – set up a committee of people with the various expertise needed to answer the call. The Jesuit community was very happy to offer Cappolis Cottage [a little house on the back avenue] – and the Parish set about making application to welcome a Syrian family.

On Tuesday 10 December last year a special Irish Government charter flight arrived in Dublin after a very long and delayed journey from Jordan, where refugees had found shelter from their war-torn country. There was only one family on the flight not destined for direct provision – and it was only after more interminable security delays at Dublin airport – that, exhausted and a bit bewildered – the El Sheblak family, Khalil and his wife, Noor and their two Daughters, Taleen (3) and Dania (1) [both of them fast asleep!] arrived in Clongowes to became our nearest neighbours.

One of the first experiences of Ireland for this Moslem family came on the following Sunday with a visit to Santa, who was holding court for staff families in the school refectory. The girls returned home with festive gifts from the “man-with-the-white beard” (Fr Barney had not yet grown his own personal Covid-marker!).

From slow and shy beginnings the quartet became part of the landscape and the local community rallied round and looked after all the family’s needs – helping with the shopping – arranging English classes – or simply dropping in to say hello from time to time. In the first few weeks, the family was greatly helped by an occasional visit from Fr Fouad Nakhla SJ, a Syrian tertian from Manresa – and gradually they all became a familiar sight on the avenue and as they ventured up towards the castle.

But who was to know of the pandemic which was to change the lift of everyone as the New Year 2020 dawned… and their intended two-month stay extended to all of 12 months – almost to the day.

We were recently delighted to hear that the committee had succeeded in finding the family accommodation in the village itself – within the community – nearer to the shops and, for Taleen, the school which she joined in September.

So that is why we were both sad and glad at the same time – as we bade them farewell and wished them happiness and good fortune in their new home. Our thanks to Fr Paul and his committee – and to all of those who made the El Sheblaks so welcome by helping out in various ways – especially to Fr Paul’s team who, along with Br Tom, gave the cottage a real facelift [with some help from TY’20!] – to the generous-sharing experts on the committee – and to the Clongowes staff and friends who provided everything from buggies and clothes and food to dolls and games – and even a load of Br Cha’s firewood!

It has been a great experience for all of us to share in answering Francis’ call and it is a good example of being able to acknowledge gratefully that we have all been enriched by what we have received over and above what we have been able to give this lovely family… but didn’t Jesus tell us: Give and there will be gifts for you… a full measure – pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing – will be poured into your lap. [Luke 6:38]

We had good reason to be glad to be sad – and we wish them God’s blessing for the future – and we thank them for their youthful presence among us.

Michael Sheil SJ