‘I felt like … family’: Anglican priest from Syria finds welcoming home in Canada

Rev. Eyad Ajji poses for a photo in Prince Albert on February 1, 2019, the day after he moved to the city. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“It’s cold out there,” Rev. Eyad Ajji says as he sits down at a desk in the Diocese of Saskatchewan Office Friday.

It’s the Anglican priest’s second day in Prince Albert.

While the temperature might be cooler than he’s used to, hailing from Syria and living for 13 years in Jordan, he’s not a stranger to the Canadian winter.

Ajji has spent the last two years and two months in Calgary, where he and his family settled when they first came to Canada.

Ajji is the Anglican Church’s newest priest in Prince Albert.

While he’s relatively new to Canada, Ajji says he didn’t come as a refugee.

“My family and I lived in Jordan for 13 years because I was ordained as a priest in the Anglican church there,” he explains.

“You can call us newcomers to Canada.”

Ajji described the situation in the Middle East as getting worse and worse day-by-day.

“Because we are a Syrian family, living in Jordan, we were still foreigners there, even though we speak the same language,” he said.

“Because of the Syrian crisis, the future wasn’t obvious for us. If my children graduated from university, they wouldn’t get any jobs because they were foreigners. At that time, it was clear that we couldn’t visit our country because of the war in Syria. The idea came up that we should find another place to live peacefully. We applied to Canada, and the door was open widely at that time, and we came.”

Ajji said the move went smoothly, and with the help of their new neighbours in Calgary, the family was able to figure out how to fit in.

“For us, as a family, people were friendly and kind with us,” he recalled. “They let us feel that this is really our home.”

Ajji emphasized that not all Syrians who have come to Canada are refugees. Some are, he said, fleeing the situation in that country and going to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan before making their way to Canada.

“They were in need,” he said.

He doesn’t agree that people are coming here to try to somehow change the way the country operates.

“Some people maybe think they come here to change the culture. I totally disagree,” he said.

“As a newcomer, regardless of the country I come from, when I immigrated to Canada, we should understand that this country has standards, laws. We shouldn’t change anything.”

Ajji’s Thursday arrival in Prince Albert wasn’t just his first time in the city, it was also his first time in Saskatchewan. He’s looking forward to getting to know the community, and so far he’s heard good things.

“We have been told that people are friendly here, the city is nice and the city has everything,” he said.

“I have a job here, we have a school for our kids — I think it will be good.”

So far, the local Anglican community has been helping Ajji and his family settle in to their new home.

“People kept in touch with me on email. Especially when I met Bishop Michael (Hawkins) today, and the other staff, I felt like I had been living here for several months. Nothing was strange, nothing was really new,” he said.

“Before we arrived, I felt like they were our family.”

Ajji’s installation as a Prince Albert priest will take place this Sunday at 11 a.m. at St. George’s Anglican Church, 1104 Fourth Street East