Caroline Davis and some of the staff of Catholic Crosscultural Services. Photo by Michael Swan

Where the stranger is made welcome

  • May 10, 2013

On the edges of Mississauga and in the neglected corners of outer Scarborough, survivors of all the world’s tragedies of misrule, economic failure, mob violence and economic dysfunction are hunkered down — waiting to claim their part of the Canadian promise of decency and opportunity.

Many are Muslim, Protestant or of no religion. It matters not. Catholic Charities are there for them. Since the world began realigning itself after the Second World War, Catholic Crosscultural Services has been helping immigrants, refugees and newcomers find their way in Toronto.

“You find them on the outer fringes. They’re quite literally pushed to the margins,” explains Catholic Crosscultural Services executive director Carolyn Davis.

Being there for newcomers — to teach them how to look for a Canadian job, where to find training, where to find child care, what they can expect from government — is the work of “faith in action,” Davis said.

“We haven’t changed who we are or who we serve because of any contract or funding. There’s no mission drift,” said Davis. “Whatever we do is completely in line with the reason we began in the first place.”

In the 1950s the Cold War was producing thousands of refugees and Canada took in huge numbers. Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks arrived and turned to the most reliable source of support they knew — their local Catholic Church. The first version of Catholic Crosscultural Services was nothing more than a network of parishes, each trying to serve newcomers in their own language.

By 1959 the network was incorporated as the Catholic Immigration Bureau. Through the 1960s there were new waves of Catholic economic migrants, first from Italy, then Portugal. In the 1970s politically active Chileans were fleeing the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet. Catholic Charities knew these people needed translators, counsellors, psychologists and the assurance that someone was on their side.

The scale of Catholic outreach to refugees ramped up again with the 1976 Vietnamese boat people crisis. The archdiocese of Toronto agreed to sponsor refugees directly from refugee camps in excess of the government’s own commitment to welcome refugees. Catholic Family Services was tapped to provide counselling and other social work supports. By 1981 the settlement services part of Catholic Family Services became the Department of Immigrant and Refugee Services of Catholic Charities. The department established itself where the immigrants were settling — Scarborough and Peel Region.

The needs were so great the Department of Immigrant and Refugee Services was becoming larger than Catholic Charities itself. It was reincorporated as the Catholic Immigration Bureau.

By 1995 the Catholic service for immigrants and refugees was speaking to people in an enormous number of languages, employing counsellors and social workers from a globe-spanning range of cultures. It was time to change the name again and it became Catholic Crosscultural Services.

Through the 2000s Canada’s immigration policies encouraged an even greater range of immigrants and CCS had decades of experience. Toronto continued to be the pre-eminent magnet for newcomers. Governments turned to CCS and the agency grew nearly three-fold between 2006 and 2009.

Catholic Crosscultural Services now provides an online citizenship course. It’s worked hard with foreign-trained professionals who can’t get their credentials recognized — including a program to help foreign-trained doctors find work in medical technology. There are now self-guided resources for people who already have clear goals and just need an office with an Internet connection where they can conduct their job search.

Last year, CCS helped 39,352 people on a budget of just over $11 million.

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