In the end it happened quickly. The church found out on Thursday, February 25 that the family was coming; they landed in Montreal on Saturday the 27th and arrived in Halifax on Monday the 29th.
The Almasalmeh family — husband, wife and three young sons ages 3, 9 and 13 — were met at the airport by 30 parishioners from St. Paul’s. For this family from northern Syria, the journey to Canada had been a long time coming. After war broke out and Mr. Almasalmeh, a high school French teacher, was imprisoned and tortured by the Syrian government, the family fled to Jordan where they had relatives, remaining there for three years without work.
Martine Osler, a parishioner at St. Paul’s for 28 years, helped to host the Almasalmehs when they arrived and has grown close to them. “The day we drove to the airport to meet them, I knew I was taking part in a life-changing event for them and for me,” she says. “Yesterday we moved them into their new apartment, and I was overwhelmed with emotion — it was a profoundly happy event that will stay with me forever, like the day I was married and when my two children were born.”
For Newton, it has been a life-changing experience as well. “Seeing it all come to fruition is a real gift,” she said. “Feeling that call and watching God work through me, and through everybody, to bring this into being — it’s been pretty significant in my life. The whole thing has strengthened my faith.”
It was also a family affair, something Newton wanted her children to be part of. “It’s the whole concept of ‘love your neighbor,'” she says. “I love seeing my boys with their kids, because it teaches them that even though other people are different, we are more similar than we are different. … We as a society, at least here, stick to our own. This is my first experience befriending a Muslim Arab family, and the experience has helped me look at other people differently, like women wearing the hijab for instance, because I don’t have the same fear, or the ‘not knowing.'”
The Almasalmeh family are settling into their new life and still have a lot of adjusting ahead — the children just began school this week, and the father will start working with career counselors to determine if he can be employed as a French teacher again, or if he will need to prepare for a new occupation. But the St. Paul’s parishioners will be on hand to help them with it all.
The family, Newton says, is beyond grateful.
“They just don’t have the words, they’ve said, to express how thankful they are. … The day after they arrived, we took them to the bank,” recalls Newton. “There was an Arabic-speaking employee helping them, and the mother told her that they’ve been through hell for five years and now they’re in heaven.”
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content producer for Aleteia.