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‘A day of great joy’

A Syrian family seeking refuge in Ireland has just been housed in the Cappolis Cottage, a small bungalow on the grounds of Clongowes Wood College. Khalad and Noor Al Sheblak arrived in the parish of Clane/Rathcoffey on Tuesday 10 December 2019, with their two small girls Dania and Taleen, both of whom were born in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Over the last six months, the Jesuit community in Clongowes and a group of transition year students have been helping local parishioners to make possible the welcoming of a refugee family to Ireland in response to the plea made by Pope Francis that every parish around the world take in one refugee family and care for them.  Fr Michael Sheil SJ, rector of Clongowes, spoke about the process at morning assembly in Clongowes the day after the family arrived and made their home in the cottage.

He said one of the conditions of a parish being able to host a family was that they could guarantee suitable accommodation. “The Jesuit Community was delighted to provide this guarantee by offering Cappolis Cottage, the small bungalow on the back avenue” In addition, he noted that “A small army of volunteers and a group of our own TY have worked to give the cottage a facelift.” He said that a great variety of events had taken place in the parish to raise funds to enable a proper reception for a refugee family.

Fr Michael told the staff and pupils that “our offering the cottage is an important gesture of solidarity by Clongowes Wood College in the life of the parish,” before adding, “You will probably see Khalad and Noor and their girls from time to time on the back avenue and I hope that you will make sure to help them feel at home.”  The rector said that the Al Sheblak were one of the lucky few who have been able to escape from the suffering of being homeless refugees “just like the Holy Family all those years ago when God joined our human race and when for us and for our salvation He came down from Heaven and became man.” Read Fr Michael’s full address to the students below.

Alawasala, fáilte, welcome

Four years ago last September at the height of the crisis of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Pope Francis proposed an extraordinary challenge at his Sunday audience in Rome. As leader of the Catholic Church and the son of Italian emigrants to Argentina, he made an impassioned appeal to every parish and group of Christians to take in one refugee family.

For the past 6 months our local parish of Clane/Rathcoffey has been quietly working to accept this challenge in a remarkable example of inventive teamwork. Fr Paul O’Boyle headed a committee made up of about a dozen parishioners with a variety of qualifications and expertise including a lawyer, a social worker, an estate agent, housewives, tradesmen, and medics. An application to take a refugee family has to be accompanied by the guarantee of accommodation before it is accepted. The Jesuit Community was delighted to provide this guarantee by offering Cappolis Cottage, the small bungalow on the back avenue. A small army of volunteers plus a group of our own TY have worked to give the cottage a facelift. And a great variety of events took place in the parish to raise funds to enable a proper reception for a refugee family. Our offering the cottage is an important gesture of solidarity by CWC in the life of the parish. And so the application went in.

A short time ago the Al Sheblak family were living the awful conditions of a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan where their two children were born. Khalad, the Dad has just turned 30. His wife, Noor, is 24. They have two small girls, Dania (3 next March) and Taleen (who was 1 in October). Yesterday in spite of the awful weather was a day of great joy for them and for all our parish community – as their finally landed in Dublin. After a seemingly interminable wait at the airport for all the checks and formalities to be completed – Fr O’Boyle and a few Committee members were able to welcome the Al Sheblak Family and bring them safely to Cappolis Cottage. They will be staying with us for a short while until suitable accommodation is found in a more central site in the parish community hopefully sometime in the New Year. You will probably see Khalad and Noor and their girls from time to time on the back avenue  and I hope that you will make sure to help them feel at home.

The Dad speaks a little English but Noor doesn’t. So unless your fluency in Syrian is up to it you will need only to use your initiative to indicate that they are very welcome. You might even try to say ‘alawasala’ the Syrian for ‘welcome’ or fáilte or ‘welcome’ or simply a friendly wave anything in word or deed to ensure that their first Christmas in freedom will be a memorable one. The Al Sheblak Family is only a tiny fraction of those who have been lucky enough to escape from the suffering of being homeless just like the Holy Family all those years ago when God joined our human race and when for us and for our salvation He came down from Heaven and became man. As we thank God for their safe arrival – let us pray the prayer of Pope Francis for all refugees – especially those who did not make it to a safe arrival home.

Pope Francis’ Prayer for Immigrants 

Merciful God, we pray to You for all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life.

Though many of their graves bear no name, to You each one is known, loved and cherished.

May we never forget them, but honour their sacrifice with deeds more than words. We entrust to You all those who have made this journey, enduring fear, uncertainty, and humiliation, in order to reach a place of safety and hope.

Just as You never abandoned Your Son as he was brought to a safe place by Mary and Joseph, so now be close to these, Your sons and daughters, through our tenderness and protection.

In caring for them may we seek a world where none are forced to leave their home and where all can live in freedom, dignity and peace.

Merciful God and Father of all, wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering, and free us from the insensitivity born of worldly comfort and self-centredness.

Inspire us, as nations, communities, and individuals, to see that those who come to our shores are our brothers and sisters.

May we share with them the blessings we have received from Your hand, and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to You, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.

And let us ask the Lord to make us generous in our welcome to the Al Sheblak Family, His new gift to us , fellow human beings in need of our love.  Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.

Fr Michael Sheil SJ, Rector

Clongowes Wood College

11/12/2019