Leader of Canada's Bishops Writes Open Letter on Responding to Refugee Crisis

Gives 7 Suggestions and References for More Ideas

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On Tuesday’s feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, the leader of Canada’s bishops penned an open letter to the faithful of the nation regarding the refugee crisis in Europe and around the world.

The archbishop offers seven concrete suggestions for how the faithful can do their part in helping the refugees.

Here is the full text of the letter:

By Archbishop Paul-André Durocher
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

A drowned Syrian child washed up on a beach. A mother and daughter forbidden to board a train, their savings spent on a now useless ticket. Razor-sharp barbed-wire fences to keep refugees out. Miles and miles of homeless trudging along Europe’s roads. Millions of refugees in makeshift shelters throughout the Middle East, in Africa and other regions.

My dear brothers and sisters,

These past weeks all of us have been haunted by the images of refugees flooding into Europe from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Since his pontificate began, Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us of their need for help, and appealed to the world not to turn our hearts away when homeless masses seek shelter, protection and a better life. Shortly after his election as Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father visited the island of Lampedusa to focus attention on the boatloads of refugees who have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean:

These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God!

A year ago, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, the Secretary of State for the Holy Father, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, repeated the Pope’s constant appeal to us and to the international community to “take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway” by preventing war, stopping aggressors, protecting populations and helping victims.

As our world and our country debate how best to respond, we as Catholics must ask what we might do personally and in our local communities. Here are a few suggestions on what we can do to help in this tragic, overwhelming and complex problem.

1. Sponsor a refugee family. During his Angelus message this past September 6, Pope Francis invited parishes, religious communities, monasteries, and shrines throughout Europe to welcome refugee families in preparation for the Year of Mercy. Should we in Canada do less? When we refuse to welcome others, our country, our homes and our hearts become closed to life. Although many among us face economic difficulties, what we have and own is so much more than what is accessible to the world’s refugees. For our own peace of mind and our eternal salvation, we cannot refuse to share what we have with those in need. Should you, with your diocese, parish or community organization wish to learn more about sponsoring a refugee family, you can obtain information and suggestions from:

  •   The Catholic Refugee Sponsors’ Council which brings together personnel from a number of diocesan and other Catholic offices involved in refugee sponsorship. Its focus is to assist in providing coordination, advocacy and information for Catholic refugee sponsoring organizations. Its website is https://catholicrefugeesponsors.wordpress.com/.

  •   The Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto is among our country’s largest offices for refugees. Its staff generously provides advice, support and assistance to groups wishing to initiate sponsorship or resettlement. Its webpage is https://www.archtoronto.org/about-us/departments-(o-z)/Office_for_Refugees.

  •   The Office de la pastorale sociale of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Quebec has its own special regulations for immigration. The aims of the Office include facilitating the welcome and integration of refugees and immigrants and building bridges between different cultural and linguistic communities. It provides service in both French and English. Its webpage (in French only) is http://diocesemontreal.org/leglise-a- montreal/notre-diocese/les-offices-et-services/office-des-uvres-et-de-la-pastorale- sociale.html.

2. Donate. Our Church in Canada is blessed with several aid and development agencies which do outstanding international work and are deeply involved in assisting Syrian and other refugees and displaced persons. Their work is only possible through the generous donations and support of many Catholics as well as other people of good will. For more information on each organization, and how you can contribute, contact:

  •   Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, http://www.devp.org/

  •   Aid to the Church in Need – Canada, http://www.acn-aed-ca.org/

  •   CNEWA Canada,


  •   Canadian Jesuits International, http://www.canadianjesuitsinternational.ca/project-


    3. Get involved politically. Any response to a major emergency situation is always most effective when governments, local communities and committed citizens work together. Our current federal election campaign is an important moment to engage political candidates and parties on what, if elected, they will do to assist refugees. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), as well as the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, have each reflected on questions and concerns for voters to consider and discuss among themselves and with candidates running for office.

  •   The CCCB 2015 federal election guide includes questions about the reunification of immigrant and refugee families; the recognition of the skills of immigrants; human trafficking; and protection for the dignity of immigrants and refugees. The English- language version of this guide from our Commission for Justice and Peace is available at http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/2015_Federal_Election_Guide_EN.pdf.

  •   The Development and Peace election guide has a section on the Global South, with questions on the place of the poorest and most vulnerable populations in policymaking, aid programs and official development assistance. The English version is at https://www.devp.org/sites/www.devp.org/files/IMCE/files/articles/electoral_guide.pdf.

  •  An election guide has also been provided through the collaboration of several ecumenical agencies. It includes a section on “Welcoming the Stranger” and suggests questions to political candidates regarding refugee rights in Canada, including access to health care. This guide is available on the website of the Canadian Council of Churches, where the English version can be accessed at https://www.councilofchurches.ca/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/CCC_FederalElectionResource_FINAL_WEB_REV.pdf.

4. Be informed. The situations facing refugees, including those from Syria, are complicated. The questions involve not only the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, but also the complexities of international cooperation, peacekeeping, safeguarding communities from terrorist acts, and the enormous challenges in resettlement. In addition, local and regional conditions frequently change and new emergencies emerge. Our faith and our common humanity impel each of us to do what we can to assist. But our efforts will be all the more effective, and enduring, if we are well informed. In addi
tion to the websites of the four Canadian development and aid agencies noted above, excellent sources of information as well as different perspectives on the needs of Syrian refugees and on the conditions affecting refugees in general are available from:

  •   The Catholic international network Caritas Internationalis, http://www.caritas.org/

  •   Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada,


  •   The United Nations Refugee Agency, http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

5. Combat prejudices and fears. Major obstacles facing refugees as they seek protection and shelter involve apathy, indifference, apprehensions and prejudices in those countries where they seek refuge. When our hearts are fearful, our doors remain closed to others in need. Many of the Syrian refugees are Christians or members of other minorities, but the majority are Muslim. New arrivals to Canada (and even others who have lived with us for years or even centuries) experience prejudice, intolerance, fear and indifference when they interact with our dominant society. One way to address this negative and destructive attitude, particularly when those targeted by prejudice belong to other religions, is through inter- religious dialogue. Moreover, as Pope Francis noted in his recent Encyclical Laudato Si’ (no. 201), religions should dialogue among themselves “for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor and building networks of respect and fraternity.” Inter-religious dialogue not only builds bridges, but helps us affirm our own faith and understand it better.

  •   This past July, at the end of Ramadan, our Conference’s Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue released a pastoral resource on how Catholics can better understand Islam. Entitled A Church in Dialogue — Catholics and Muslims in Canada: Believers and Citizens in Society, the English version of this resource is available at http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/CCCB_Muslim_EN_web.pdf.

  •   To explain the purpose of the CCCB resource on Islam and how our relations with Muslims are particularly important, I have written an introductory letter found at http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/Introduction_letter_- _Catholic_and_Muslims_in_Canada_-_EN.PDF.

 More recently, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council on the Relations of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, the Commission has released a resource on inter-religious dialogue, entitled A Church in Dialogue: The Catholic Church and Interreligious Dialogue. The English version is at http://www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/Nostra_Aetate_-_50th_Anniversary.pdf.

6. Stay focused. There are some 13 million refugees now throughout the world, of whom four million are from Syria. The problems they face are immense, and their situations will not be easily or quickly resolved. Our efforts to work with refugees must be long-term, if they are to be treated justly and our world is to know peace. Within several months, our Conference’s Commission for Justice and Peace will release an up-to-date reflection on the challenges affecting refugees as they face resettlement in Canada. In addition, the Holy See offers resources to assist Catholics and others determined to stay focused on finding solutions.

  •   To receive electronic news about the upcoming CCCB resource on refugees, as well as updates on all the activities and projects of our Conference, you can subscribe with no fee at http://www.cccb.ca/site/eng/media-room/subscribe-to-news.

  •   The Holy Father’s yearly message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is an important reminder of the refugee situation. The 2015 English version is at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa- francesco_20140903_world-migrants-day-2015.html.

  •   The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church remains a fundamental outline of the principles and application of Catholic social teaching, including how these relate to the situation of refugees. The English version of the Compendium is available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justp eace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html.

    7. Meditate on Scripture, fast and pray. Every good thought, word and deed is inspired by the Holy Spirit and will come to fulfillment in God the Father. With Christ, we are to take up his Cross to bring reconciliation and healing to others. Meditation, prayer and fasting focus our attention, move our hearts, give vision and insight. Moved by our meditation, we intercede to God through fasting and prayer to transform our lives, lead us to change our ways, and motivate us. Uniting us with God in his call to solidarity and compassion, by meditating on the Scriptures, praying and fasting, hope is born, our love for others strengthened, and our commitment to justice and charity deepened. Scripture, prayer and fasting show how faith must lead us to good works. It has been the practice over the past years for the Bishops of Canada to call on the Catholics in their diocese and parishes to meditate on, and to fast and pray for, the needs of all the people in the Middle East and for peace throughout the world.

  •   Check with your diocese and parish on plans for special days of reflection, prayer, fasting and community action for the displaced people of our world.

  •   Urge your parish to include the needs of refugees in the Prayers of the Faithful.

  •   Remember the millions of refugees in your own family and personal prayer, when you are meditating on Scripture, and in your own acts of fasting and penance.

My sisters and brothers, these are seven suggestions how each of us and our communities can respond to the refugee crisis. Joseph and Mary sought refuge in Bethlehem, and later with the Child Jesus experienced exile. During his ministry, Jesus had no place to call home. The refugee crisis is an important moment to deepen our faith, extend our charity, and summon up hope. Together we can make a better world for all those in need, and so witness to Christ’s Kingdom. Whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Christ Our Lord (see Matthew 23.40).

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary September 8, 2015

+Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 

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