Syriac Catholics from St. Joseph’s Church in Mississauga, Ont., bring the offertory gifts to the altar at a Mass marking World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 25. Photo by Michael Swan

Migrants, refugees praised for strength, courage

  • September 28, 2022

Rookie Member of Parliament Rechie Valdez had trouble holding back her tears as she celebrated the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees with the Syriac Catholic community at St. Joseph’s Church in Mississauga, Ont., where she recalled her parents’ journey from the Philippines to Zambia and then on to a new life in Canada.

“We all know how privileged we are to be in this country,” she told the packed church at the end of a Mass celebrated with Cardinal Thomas Collins and Bishop Paul Antoine Nassif, Syriac Catholic Exarch of Canada.

The emotion the young Liberal member for Mississauga-Streetsville brought to the celebration drew a wave of applause from the pews filled with people who escaped the Nineveh Plains of Iraq, first under Saddam Hussein and then during the Islamic State’s reign of terror.

Aid extended to refugees is “our moral responsibility,” said Valdez.

But Canada’s interest in refugees extends well beyond just acts of kindness. This country needs the youth, ambition, skills, toughness and hope refugees bring with them, Valdez argued.

“Each chapter of our (Canadian) story includes contributions from people from different parts of the planet,” she said. “This is our planet.”

Amidst frequent expressions of gratitude to Collins and other Canadian bishops for leading Canadian Catholics in the effort to resettle thousands of refugees every year, St. Joseph’s pastor Fr. Manhal Abboush reminded the congregation of the focus of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Church has celebrated since it was established in the midst of the First World War under Pope Benedict XV.

“This day is to remember the strength and courage and perseverance of migrants and refugees,” said Abboush.

Conservative shadow minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Jasraj Singh Hallam spoke of his own experience sponsoring refugees from Afghanistan.

“I have seen people come off the plane and literally kiss the floor, kiss the ground,” he said. “This country is a beacon of hope.”

The Sikh politician from Calgary praised Pope Francis and the work of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development in Rome, reaching for St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians to tell the resettled refugees in the church, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens.”

“There is so much suffering in this world and we need to provide refuge,” Collins told the Syriac Catholic congregation. “Our archdiocese is blessed to have you here… It really reminds us that if people have shed their blood for Christ, have died for Christ, the least we can do is to live for Christ.”

Nassif, preaching on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, drew attention to a kind of class system that distinguishes between rich countries deciding whether or not to admit refugees and poor countries filled with refugees.

“How much the people of these countries long to eat from the crumbs that fall from the tables of rich countries,” he said.

With two bishops present in their tiny church to celebrate their own stories of flight from the Middle East to Canada, many in the congregation chose to dress in traditional clothing from the region of Iraq around Mosul. As the deacons, priests and bishops entered the church women raised up a celebratory ululation and altar servers shook their silver ripidion ceremonial fans.

With the church bursting at the seams, Abboush announced that the congregation would soon move to new, larger premises.

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