Catholic refugees freed from church sanctuary in Canada

.- After spending 13 months in sanctuary in the basement of Notre-Dame-de-Grace Catholic Church in Montreal, three Catholic Palestinian refugees were finally granted permanent residence status by Canadian immigration officials. Khalil Ayoub, 70, his wife, Therese Boulos Haddad, 62, and his brother, Nabih, 69, received the news Friday and celebrated after Sunday mass with the parish community that had taken them under their wing.

After the final blessing, the pastor, Fr. Claude Julien, gave the Ayoubs bouquets of flowers. The three seniors then walked down the center aisle to the church’s front doors, taking their first steps out of the church in freedom.

The three Melkite Catholics had spent 52 years in refugee camps in Lebanon before arriving in Canada. They were ordered deported back to a refugee camp in January 2004, after losing their four-year battle to stay in Canada.

Instead, the three practicing Catholics arrived at the French parish seeking sanctuary. Parishioners quickly decided that they would care for the three seniors and take on their case.

What followed were months of persistent lobbying and working with a coalition of other churches and organizations involved in the plight of refugees in church sanctuary.

Parishioners organized a committee that helped the Ayoubs gather documents in their case. The file was then submitted to the Canadian refugee board for evaluation.

Formerly stateless, the three seniors now have a country to call home. They told The Montreal Gazette that they are now looking forward to doing the ordinary things most Canadians take for granted: having a home, going for a walk and buying groceries.

In an interview with the Catholic Times last year, Khalil Ayoub commented: “The people of this parish live the words of Christ: ‘When I was naked you clothed me; when I was hungry you gave me to eat.’ These people are saints. This parish is truly Catholic.”

The Ayoubs are the third refugee family to seek sanctuary in a Montreal-area Christian church in the last two years. They are the last to be granted residency by Citizenship and Immigration Canada on humanitarian grounds.

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