Little miracles make up Martin Mark's ministry of hope

  • April 20, 2010
Martin MarkTORONTO - Martin Mark knows from experience how hard it is to start a new life in an adopted homeland. That’s why the director for the Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT) is passionate about helping refugees successfully settle in Canada.

Ten years ago Mark was a refugee. He was welcomed into Canada after fleeing his native Hungary, where he had become a target of factions who resented his work on behalf of victims of racism.

As a student of veterinary medicine, he witnessed some international peers become victims of discrimination by groups that “were really racist or who turned against people of colour.”

“So myself and other colleagues — we were not tolerant of racism and started up a non-profit organization to support victims of racial discrimination or racist attack,” Mark said.

Eventually he found himself choosing between a life in veterinary medicine or social work. He chose the latter.

“I said to myself we have a lot of well-trained veterinarians who can really take care of sick animals but we don’t have enough committed people to help victims of different kinds of abuse based on racism and discrimination,” he said.

But his passion for social justice eventually made it dangerous for him to remain in Hungary. At a time when Hungary was applying to join the European Union, the government was reluctant to openly acknowledge that violent factions were active in the country, Martin said. So he had to leave for his safety.

In Canada, he has turned his social-justice passion into what he calls “a ministry of hope.” It began shortly after he arrived. Mark worked for a refugee sponsorship training program where he trained others how to sponsor refugees.

“I loved it, but it was a little bit too theoretical for me,” he said. “I mean, you didn’t really see the refugees.”

Preferring the frontline work of being directly involved in refugee assistance, Mark joined Catholic Cross Cultural Services, which, before the creation of ORAT, was responsible for refugee assistance. Since the archdiocese’s generous outreach to the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, the refugee-sponsorship program had slowly lost people’s interest and that needed to change.

Today, he said, because ORAT is an official office of the archdiocese, the results have multiplied and so have his “benefits.”

“I work for money because I have to pay my mortgage and feed my family but I feel like the benefit package of my job is to go to the airport and just drink my espresso and watch how the refugees arrive,” Mark said.

“You never forget the moment. These people are scared and exhausted after a long trip and who don’t know when or how or what — but you feel their happiness and see the shining of their eyes. When parishioners embrace them, greet them, communicate with them, I just love it.”

Mark recently helped reunite a Tamil youth, who had been abandoned in Ghana after fleeing Sri Lanka, with an uncle in Toronto. He then went a step further and organized with a local songwriter and performer in Ghana to create a music video about the plight of refugees.

For him, Canada is a country where citizens can pay attention to the less fortunate and less privileged in a very tangible way, yet still,  many people do nothing.

“In Canada, it’s unique that private individuals and faith communities have a right to decide where they really want to focus their work and this is something which, for me, is like a little miracle,” said Mark.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.