Pope Francis studies the bronze statue depicting migrants and refugees titled Angels Unawares by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Refugee scholarship offers helping hand

  • February 28, 2020

As someone whose life was disrupted at an early age by the ravages of war, Fr. Sami Helewa, SJ, understands the plight of the refugee who has escaped their homeland to call elsewhere home.

Helewa is a native of Lebanon, Beirut to be specific. At one time, he notes, the nation’s capital and its largest city was so picturesque it was known as the Paris of the Middle East. But in 1975, the link between politics and religion erupted in civil war that saw the country battle along predominantly Christian and Muslim lines, those that were pro-West (Christian) and those more closely aligned with the Soviet Union’s sphere (Muslim) as the Cold War divided loyalties around the world.

Between the ages of 13 and 20 Helewa lived through the civil war, which raged from 1975 through 1990 and saw 120,000 die and some one million Lebanese flee the country. His family was among this million.

“It was heartbreaking for many, many people and was the reason my family came to Canada,” said Helewa, who since 2018 has been president of Campion College, the Catholic college federated with the University of Regina.

In this land, Helewa’s journey would take a turn and he attributes it to education. He pursued an undergraduate degree which led to employment in the financial sector, but also took an elective course in religion that set him on the path to joining the Jesuits more than 20 years ago.

“Education changed my life and I have heard the same story from others who have fled their lives and livelihoods,” said Helewa.

Helewa has reflected on his own history that brought him to Canada, his religious calling and Campion, and that in his role “I had an opportunity to help more people who, like me, were forced from their homelands in search of safety and a better future.”

It’s the driving force behind a new scholarship Campion College is offering for a student who will attend the Saskatchewan university this fall. The 2020 Campion College Refugee Bursary will grant $10,000 to a student entering or continuing their education at Campion who has legally entered Canada as a refugee.

“This bursary is close to my heart because helping displaced people has biblical roots,” said Helewa. “Pope Francis unveiled the Angels Unawares statue (by St. Jacob’s, Ont., artist Timothy Schmalz) in St. Peter’s Square to highlight the plight of refugees around the world and I am pleased that now Campion is in a position to help.”

That help is greatly needed in the refugee community. Canada has a long history of accepting refugees. In recentyears that has included thousands of Syrian refugees escaping that nation’s civil war. But access to education is lacking.

Campion, in its literature promoting the bursary, notes that while 61 per cent of refugees have access to primary education, that number drops to 23 per cent for secondary education and only one per cent to post-secondary education. The lack of opportunity is something he hears often from international students — which make up about 13 per cent of the University of Regina population.

“In 2016 alone, Canada admitted over 46,000 displaced people into this beautiful and welcoming land,” he said. “Many of them are in need of — and yearn for — the opportunities an education can provide.”

Campion has been raising funds to finance the bursary for the past year and a half, and Helewa is grateful for the generosity that “will help refugees and give them the opportunity to study with us.”

Deadline for applications for the bursary is March 16. For information, see campioncollege.ca.

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