This Christmas the Al Kaed family are especially grateful to be here in Australia. The Melkite Catholic family were able to leave war-torn Syria and settle in the country two years ago after the Sydney Archdiocese put pressure on the government to grant them humanitarian visas.
As a token of their gratitude, the family of six met with Archbishop Anthony Fisher on 13 December, presenting him with Christmas gifts, including sweets from Syria.
The meeting was organised by Bishop Robert Rabbat, the Melkite Catholic Eparch in Australia, to express thanks and acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church in supporting newly-arrived Syrian and Iraqi families.
Parents Ayman Al Kaed and Lina Al Baba say they came to Australia for the sake of their children.
“We’re happy to be here for a better future for their children. Australia is our second country now,” said Mr Al Kaed.
“We fought to have you come to Australia,” Archbishop Fisher told the family. “We very much wanted this and we pushed and pushed the government to let families like yours come and I’m very happy you did come. It’s a great gift to our country. I hope we’re good for you and I’m sure you’re good for us.”
“We wanted to come on this festive occasion of Christmas with the family to say thank you for everything you’ve done, to you and all you represent, all the Catholics here in Australia,” Bishop Rabbat told Archbishop Fisher.
The family belong to St John the Beloved Melkite Catholic parish in Greenacre and the eldest two children attend Holy Spirit College in Lakemba, while the younger two attend St John Vianney Primary School in Greenacre.
Mr Al Kaed is still looking for work. He recently obtained an Australian driver’s licence and said he would like to secure a position as a school bus driver.
Twelve-year-old Marimar said she is enjoying school in Australia because unlike Syria, they get to “go for excursions”.
“Once we went to the ocean and we saw a whale,” eight-year-old Manar said.
Principal of Holy Spirit College in Lakemba, Phillip Scollard, said the school is providing the children with intensive English studies.
“I think it’s one of the great privileges of being in Catholic education that you can make a difference in peoples’ lives,” Mr Scollard said.
“I think it might be the most basic work of us as a Christian church as well, that we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the poor. This is our Church in action.”
The Sydney Archdiocese has assisted around 300 families from Syria and Iraq to resettle in Australia. Many of the children have been welcomed into Catholic schools.
Coordinator of the Melkite Catholic Welfare Association, Monica Chahoud, said, “Each of them (the families) have different issues that need addressing. We take them one by one. And really most of it is just connection. They’re looking to connect back to the Church, back to family, to find a connection.”