Migrants from Syria walk along a road in the village of Miratovac, Serbia, Aug. 24. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the plight of refugees in the 20-page document “A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada.” CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters

Canadian bishops' social justice document raises plight of refugees

By 
  • September 8, 2015

OTTAWA - As the world reacted with horror Sept. 3 to the picture of a drowned little migrant boy, Canada’s bishops published a social justice document pleading for generosity.

Produced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace commission, the 20-page document, “A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada,” specifically addresses the plight of refugees among questions it raises regarding Canada.

“I hope that all the attention given to the Syrian refugees and the immediate coverage in recent days highlights the tremendous suffering of refugees and the tens of millions of people who are caught in this situation,” said Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen, who chairs the justice and peace commission. “It becomes a news story for us a few days here and there and then fades out of our consciousness.

“There’s a constant crisis,” he said. “There are people in their 60s who have spent their entire lives in refugee camps.”

The document cites United Nations figures placing the number of people around the world displaced by war, persecution and conflict at 59.5 million.

“We’ve hit an all-time high,” Bolen said. “This is an indication governments need to do more. Yes, it would be costly to Canada to bring in more refugees. Should we do it? Without a doubt, yes, I believe we should.”

The document, however, does not only challenge governments to bring in more refugees, it asks, “Should your church community?”
Bolen said the publication was not timed for release during the election campaign or for Pope Francis’ visit this month to the United States, but had been in the works for a year and a half. The commission is also working on a document specifically addressing refugees that will be published in the next several months, he said.

The bishop pointed out the document quotes Pope Francis from the speech he made during his visit to Lampedusa, an island off Sicily “where many refugees and asylum seekers from North Africa have drowned trying to make their way to Europe.”

“In that speech, the Pope talked about the ‘globalization of indifference,’ ” he said. “We have become accustomed to the suffering of others. That doesn’t concern us.”

But the section on refugees is only one of many in a 20-page document that touches on many areas. Bolen said the subjects are dealt with under headings of “human dignity and labour; war and peace; and economics.”

The Pope’s teachings challenge not only governments, but parish communities and individual Catholics, he said.

“We need to be with others in charity and compassion and we need to be involved on a structural level addressing issues of injustice. For the Pope charity and justice are not contradictory. Faithfulness to the message of the Gospel demands both.”

Among the issues the document challenges Canada on through the lens of Pope Francis’ social teaching are: assisted suicide, the plight of Canada’s indigenous peoples, poverty and income inequality, arms production and sales, peacemaking and Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn said the document is the “best, most deeply reflective document the CCCB has produced in a decade.” The document fits right in with Pope Francis’ message about “developing a personal relationship with the poor,” he said. “It’s not enough to make it a theme song, or a brand or an ideology. I think that’s what the theme of the document is: a poor Church that is for the poor.”

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