An Afghan mother holds her baby as she struggles to disembark a raft during a rainstorm in Lesbos, Greece, Oct. 23. The Canadian bishops have called for urgent action to aid refugees. CNS photo/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters

Bishops issue urgent call to aid refugees

  • October 27, 2015

OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops have issued a plea for “urgent action” to meet the unprecedented needs of refugees fleeing war, persecution, natural disasters and the effects of climate.

The letter, entitled “I was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me,” was published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace commission. 

It reiterates a call made after the bishops’ plenary in September that every parish in Canada with the means to do so sponsor a refugee family in line with Pope Francis’ request.

The Oct. 26 pastoral letter is “being issued to renew the call to our consciences and to stir us to action to help these millions of people who struggle to survive and who search for living conditions that respect their dignity and freedom.”

The letter points out the Catholic Church has expanded its definition of refugee beyond the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention that stresses a “well-founded fear of persecution” to include people “who are victims of armed conflict, destructive economic policies or natural disasters,” and those who are “climate or environmental refugees.”

“The involuntary and obligatory nature of their migration demands of us a spontaneous response of charity built on a foundation of justice,” the letter says.

The letter also puts a spotlight on the tragic numbers of Christians among the refugees. 

“Most of these are fleeing Syria and Iraq, where along with Yazidis and other religious minorities, they have been persecuted, enslaved, even killed,” it says. “While our world has often seen conflicts like these, we cannot simply resign ourselves to the inevitability of this situation.”

The bishops offer a brief theological reflection on the biblical basis for welcoming refugees, as well as recent appeals from Pope Francis to welcome the stranger.

The bishops call on the Canadian government and civil society to: 

o Expand and accelerate sponsorship procedures;

o Give family reunification priority;

o Make asylum more accessible;

o Improve the appeal process for those refused refugee status;

oGive alternatives to detention especially for women and children; and

o Improve broader access to health care services.

The Catholic Church has long been involved in refugee sponsorship, but the bishops point out most Catholic parishes are not involved in refugee sponsorship, largely because “they are unaware that they can make a difference and have not been challenged to do so.”

While urging Catholics to pressure government to be more responsive to the needs of refugees, the bishops urge Catholics to do their part. 

“Political lobbying becomes meaningless if we are not prepared to give of ourselves and make sacrifices,” the bishops say. “We therefore call on Catholics everywhere to organize together and sponsor refugees, to the extent that they are able.”

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