Our visit to the Syrian Refugee Christmas Party at the FCJ Retreat and Renewal Center on Saturday December 17 began with videos from Aleppo. NewScoop YYC videographer, Barb Briggs, watching videos of people fleeing Aleppo, was moved to tears by what she saw. She felt powerlessness at seeing such trauma from so far away and asked, “Is there anything that I can do?”

At the same time NewScoop received an invitation from Ger Curran, a sister with Catholic Order, the Faithful Companions of Jesus who runs the FCJ Center, to attend a Christmas Party for Syrian children and their families newly arrived in Calgary. So we said Yes! This was something we could do. We could share the story of families rebuilding their lives in Calgary and the communities that have embraced them. We could bring to this world of heartbreak, some consolation of compassion in action and hope.

We arrived just in time to hear the haunting refrain of a poem “We have on this earth what makes life worth living”.

Ghada Alatrash on the left

Ghada Alatrash on the left

In the midst of the excited chatter of children . . . as they waited for Santa and presents, Ghada Alatrash, author of Stripped to the Bone , shared an excerpt from “On this Earth” written by Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish. Below is the Arabic version followed by an English translation from Ghada. To see Ghada performing this poem check out this video .

من قصيدة  “على هذه الارض ما يستحق الحياة” للشاعر محمود درويش 

“على هذه الأرض ما يستحق الحياة: تردد إبريل، رائحة الخبزِ

في الفجر، آراء امرأة في الرجال، كتابات أسخيليوس ، أول

الحب، عشب على حجرٍ، أمهاتٌ تقفن على خيط ناي، وخوف

الغزاة من الذكرياتْ.

على هذه الأرض ما يستحق الحياةْ: نهايةُ أيلولَ، سيّدةٌ تترُكُ

الأربعين بكامل مشمشها، ساعة الشمس في السجن، غيمٌ يُقلّدُ

سِرباً من الكائنات، هتافاتُ شعب لمن يصعدون إلى حتفهم

باسمين، وخوفُ الطغاة من الأغنياتْ.”

We have on this earth what makes life worth livinghuuging leg

April’s hesitations

The aroma of bread at dawn

A woman’s opinions of men

The works of Aeschylus

Grass on a stone.

Mothers living on a flute’s sigh

And the invaders’ fear of memories

We have on this earth what makes life worth living

The final days of September

A woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty

The hour of sunlight in prison

A Cloud impersonating a flock of creatures

The people’s applause for those who face death with a smile

And a tyrant’s fear of songs

We have on this earth what makes life worth living…”


For Rami, Rama and Renata, among the other families, the party allowed them to reclaim one more thing that makes life worth living. Rami shared that the gift of the Christmas party was to have a celebration away from the “voice of bullets and war”. Prior to their departure from Syria, celebrations for Rami’s family were permeated and constrained by the sounds of planes, choppers and rockets. According to Rami to have celebrations without fear is one more step in beginning to live a normal life.

Please also see Miracle On 34 St comes to Calgary for more about this party and pictures.

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  1. Pingback: A Miracle on 34th Street Comes to Calgary |