Robert Bah leads the Peters family up the aisle at Mississauga’s St. Joseph’s Church to present the gifts to Cardinal Thomas Collins. Photo by Michael Swan.

Celebrating Toronto’s migrant tradition

  • January 22, 2016

On their 37th day in Canada, the Peters family from Liberia found themselves surrounded by Goans, carrying gifts of bread and wine up to an Irish-Canadian cardinal.

Cardinal Thomas Collins celebrated World Day of Migrants and Refugees at St. Joseph’s Church in Mississauga with its largely Goan and Anglo-Indian congregation.

The Peters family spent 12 years as refugees in Ghana before they made it to Canada just before Christmas. Their sponsorship process went quickly once Office for Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto executive director Martin Mark visited the family last year in a refugee camp near the Ghanaian capital of Accra. While the focus of media attention and extraordinary volunteer efforts across the country has been Syrian refugees, Catholic refugee sponsorship has never been about just one crisis and ORAT continues to work worldwide, said Mark.

For Collins the Mass in Mississauga was more than an opportunity to participate in a global recognition of Pope Francis’ clear priority of reaching out to migrants and refugees. It was also a way for Collins to acknowledge the tradition he inherited from Toronto’s first bishop, Michael Power.

“As successor of Michael Power, I am deeply grateful for the generosity of so many,” said Collins in his homily.

Irish priest Michael Power was appointed to shepherd the mostly Protestant outpost of the British Empire that was Toronto in 1841.

Though he was the builder of St. Michael’s Cathedral and harnessed the Irish Loretto Sisters to massively expand Catholic education in the city, Power’s defining moment became the influx of 38,560 Irish refugees between May and October of 1847. At the time Toronto’s entire population was just 20,000.

Power spent his summer days down at the fever sheds at the foot of Bathurst Street, where the Irish were quarantined. He died of typhus Oct. 1, 1847.

Toronto Catholics have been living up to Power’s legacy and sacrifice in their willingness to reach out to migrants and refugees ever since, said Collins.

The recent 100-day campaign to bolster refugee sponsorship for Syrian refugees raised over $3.7 million and brought together more than 80 sponsorship groups ready to host and support Syrian refugees. ORAT organized a mission of volunteers who travelled to the Middle East and identified more than 100 Syrian refugee families in need of immediate sponsorship.

“We’re not called to measure out our faith in little teaspoons,” said Collins. “God does not measure out His love in little teaspoons. He gives it abundantly.”

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