‘It is a time to be with family. But this year this can’t be. I’m very sad’

St Augustine’s Church is a focus point for many refugees in Limerick, particularly at Christmas, reports Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe.

FRANKIE RUZIDARI is preparing to spend the saddest Christmas Day of his life in Limerick tomorrow.

It will be the first Christmas he will have spent away from his family in the Congo since he fled the country last March.

He now lives in a hostel for asylum seekers in Limerick and passes the day doing voluntary work at the Augustinian Church on O’Connell Street.

Frankie, aged 34, left his wife Didi behind in Kinshasa with their newborn baby girl.

“I had to leave the country for political reasons. Although I am seeking asylum here, I do not want to stay on in Ireland and want to go back home when the political situation changes,” he said.

Prior to coming to this country, Mr Ruzidari ran his own shop in the Congo capital, Kinshasa.

“My wife is now working the shop and I can only make contact with her through friends,” he said.

He plans to spend Christmas Day with friends who live in other hostels in the city.

“We will sit around and have a beer,” he said.

All previous Christmases were big family occasions for the Ruzidari family, who are Christians.

“We don’t have turkey, but chicken. It is a great time to be with family. But this year this can’t be. I am very sad,” Frankie said.

He said the Augustinian community are very kind to him and he spends about six hours a day doing voluntary work such as helping clean the church.

But he complains the hostel he stays in is not comfortable.

“It is not kept clean and the food is not well cooked. I do not mind Irish food, but as long as it is cooked well,” he said.

While he finds Limerick friendly, occasionally racist comments are passed on the street.

“Mostly by young people,” he said.

The weather can also be a problem.

“I am used to very hot and warm weather and the cold and the rain can be difficult sometimes,” he said.

As well as his own baby, his wife also cares for his brother’s son at home in Kinshasa.

“It is not my intention to bring my wife or child to this country, as I want to be able to go back home to the Congo,” he added.

Frankie is hopeful that things may change for the better politically in the Congo after elections which are due to be held next June.

He is hoping that the party he supports, the UDPS, will defeat the current ruler, President Joseph Kabila.

“He is causing many problems,” said Frankie.

On Christmas Day he will pray at the Augustinian Church although he is a Protestant.

“I pray at both churches,” he said.

Unlike any other, this is a Christmas Day he is not looking forward.

“It will be difficult, but if I can make contact with my wife by phone that will help,” he said.

Fr Tony Egan, prior at St Augustine’s Church in O’Connell Street, said the church has become a great focal point for asylum seekers and refugees in Limerick.

“We don’t reach out to them because they are asylum seekers or refugees, but because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And fair play to the local members of the congregation here in Limerick, they are most receptive and welcoming and the newcomers appreciate it, and this makes it all the easier for them to get involved,” said Fr Egan.

Christmas, he said, can be a very traumatic time for many asylum seekers and refugees as many are separated from their families.

“Many have been forced to flee violent situations in their own countries. We try and make it easier by getting them involved in the choir and the little Christmas dramas we put on in the church,” he said.

He said the Augustinian community began to pay special attention to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees once the new situation began to impact on the city.

“Not all of them speak English and the church is there to help break their isolation. It is the same as the church has done in the past in the US and England to help newly arrived emigrants from Ireland,” said Fr Egan.

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