A plea for Iraq

  • April 16, 2010
Iraqi PrayerA generation ago Canadians opened their doors to more than 100,000 Vietnamese refugees. Today, thousands of Iraqi refugees need our help. And although many of them are Christian, that’s not the reason to get involved. As someone said, we’re not doing this because they’re Christian, we’re doing it because we are.

The April 18, 2010 edition of The Register contains a 12-page section that details the desperate plight of almost two million Iraqi refugees. More than 250,000 of them are Christians being persecuted solely because of their faith. We encourage you to read our special report and consider the hardship of people who have been forced to flee their homes after once-peaceful neighbourhoods became places of threats, assaults, kidnapping and murder.

When the Vietnamese boat crisis arose in the late 1970s parishes across Canada sponsored thousands of “boat people” and led them through their first halting steps in a new land. In January, we marked one of the many success stories from that grand initiative by celebrating the ordination of Bishop Vincent Nguyen. Now we are called to help the refugees of Iraq.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada will accept 3,900 displaced Iraqis this year. But that  is contingent on private organizations sponsoring 2,500 cases. Kenney is counting on churches of all faiths to rally to the cause. About one-quarter of Canada’s 74 Catholic dioceses have active refugee sponsorship programs. Clearly, Canadian Catholics can do more.

In the archdiocese of Toronto, sponsorships are co-ordinated by the Office of Refugees (ORAT)  under Martin Mark. Established in 2008, ORAT has worked with parishes and religious orders to bring about 150 Iraqi refugees to Canada.

Initiating a refugee resettlement may seem overwhelming, but ORAT has streamlined the process. It  co-ordinates with government agencies to identify, screen and transport refugees, and then can provide parish volunteers training to help a refugee family adjust to a new life. The infrastructure is in place.

But resettling Iraqi refugees is not a cure-all. To flourish in the land of the Apostles, Christianity needs democracy to flourish. Canada must encourage nations to keep their promise to create a peaceful, democratic Iraq republic. Pressure, and possibly sanctions, should also be applied to force Iraq to accept basic human-rights standards, particularly respect for minorities. Iraq needs to enforce laws that welcome all citizens as full and active participants in every facet of a society purged of religious persecution.

Addressing a gathering of Canadian bishops, Mark made a plea for urgent action. “What we did for the boat people, we can do now for Iraqi.”

He’s right. It’s time to act. Not because they are Christians, but because we are.

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