Allow yourself to be troubled by the plight of migrants and refugees around the world — this was the message of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to the faithful of their country in a new pastoral letter last month. Noting the refugee crisis across the globe, the bishops called on Catholics in Canada to welcome refugees and respond to their suffering with action, charity and prayer. “This pastoral letter is a challenge to Catholics in Canada to learn about the situation today, pray for those affected, and to mobilize themselves in order to make the greatest difference possible,” said the pastoral letter written by the Canadian bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace on Oct. 26. During the past 20 years, 20,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in an effort to flee the violence of their home countries, the Canadian bishops said, pointing to oppression in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali and North Africa that has left millions without a home or job. The desperation of these families often leaves them vulnerable and easily targeted by human traffickers, the bishops added. In addition, Christian refugees have been leaving Syria and Iraq in droves due to persecution, slavery and threats of death from the militant group ISIS. Lebanon is currently holding 1.2 million Syrian refugees, making up a third of the country's population, the bishops warned. “This pastoral letter is being issued to renew the call to our consciences and to stir us into action to help these millions of people who struggle to survive and who search for living conditions that respect their dignity and freedom,” the Canadian bishops stated. “When it comes to welcoming refugees in our own country, our action cannot be limited to simply providing assistance and accompaniment during the long process of selection, but must be aimed at the full inclusion of these newcomers,” the letter continued. The bishops' words underscored different ways of improving the current process of welcoming refugees, such as expanding the sponsorship procedures and making asylum more accessible. They also called for more priority to be given to family reunification and expanding access to healthcare services. “Even the child Jesus himself was a refugee when his family fled the persecution of King Herod,” the letter stated, pointing to numerous Biblical references about welcoming migrants, foreigners and refugees as neighbors and friends. “This is why we must stand in solidarity with refugees and offer help adapted to their real needs - because they are our family,” the letter continued, saying that every human being is a child of God in the Church's family. However, Canadians cannot stop at simply welcoming the refugees, the bishops’ commission said. These families need further aid to establish their new lives, they pointed out. Most individuals seeking shelter have undergone trauma from persecution or torture and experience disorientation from their long, perilous journeys. Many will also have to accept minimum wage jobs even if they have professional qualifications. “These are all reasons why we must make our voices heard — clearly and loudly — to correct injustices and to call for the recognition and full inclusion of refugees into our communities and society,” the bishops noted. “We must respond to this crisis, here and now, as Christians, as Canadians, as human beings,” they continued. In the past, sponsors in Canada have responded charitably to refugees seeking a home. Although there are different policies in every country, some refugees within Canada benefit from the federal government. Others are sponsored by public or private members and receive assistance throughout the course of the year. During the past five years, Canada has resettled nearly 13,000 refugees per year. The Canadian bishops believe that this number could greatly increase if communities and religious organizations joined efforts and worked together. “For anyone attentive to human solidarity, and especially for any Christian, concern for the living conditions of our fellow human beings, particularly those who are in need, should become a way of life and a habit of thought, a practice of active compassion rooted in justice,” the bishops noted. Listing a series of practical actions to ensure a safe harbor for refugees and migrants, they asked Catholic Canadians to challenge the federal government to expand the acceptance of refugees to Canada, fix any flaws in the immigration system, and provide aid to refugee camps through prayer and financial support. They also suggested establishing pastoral ministries or diocesan services for migrants and displaced persons. In addition, they encouraged Catholics to raise awareness for refugees within their communities or gather funds to sponsor a refugee family. “Our faith calls us to let ourselves be moved — even disturbed — by our sisters and brothers who are refugees. They await our listening ears, our open hearts, and our outstretched arms to receive them,” the bishops’ letter stated. “Let us all pray that our hands and our hearts may be united with our voices in actions that will give a loving welcome to refugees in our country and in our Christian communities.” Photo Credit: Denis Rozan via www.shutterstock.com
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