Cardinal Thomas Collins, centre, was honoured by ORAT and the Chaldean community June 19 for bringing thousands of refugees to Canada. Photo by Michael Swan

Toronto Cardinal Collins honoured for fatherly care of refugees

  • June 24, 2022

Honouring Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins for the thousands of refugees he has brought to Canada came quite naturally to the community at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

“This community has really been built by refugees,” explained Mark Shamoun, an active volunteer at the cathedral.

On the eve of World Refugee Day, the Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto and the Chaldean community came together with former refugees to honour Collins at a Mass and banquet.

Since Collins established ORAT as a separate office, the Archdiocese of Toronto has brought 7.427 refugees to Toronto via private sponsorship — families and parishes stepping up to help refugees restart their lives in Canada. Over the last decade Catholic dioceses nationwide have imitated the Toronto example, establishing their own offices for refugees.

Last year ORAT initiated 694 refugee sponsorships and welcomed 316 refugees on Canadian soil, despite pandemic restrictions. From 2018 to 2021 the organization has committed to resettle 2,374 refugees and welcomed 1,949 at the end of the long and fraught process of background checks, medical examinations and proving refugee status.

For Chaldeans who escaped from Iraq, often spending years in limbo in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere, the cardinal’s contribution is known and appreciated, said Chaldean cathedral choir soloist Diana Kaktoana.

“It’s very, very valuable to us that he cares, like a father,” she said. “It’s really beautiful, that.”

“Through all the different waves of refugees, he’s been here,” said Shamoun. “It’s never lost on them (Chaldeans in Toronto) that the way we worship here, the freedom of religion, is not like back in Iraq.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in 2021 the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes by violence, human rights violations, climate change, persecution and conflict broke the 100 million mark — the highest number ever recorded.

Pope Francis has made migrants and refugees a defining priority of his papacy. In his message for the Church’s annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Sept. 25) this year the Pope calls the Church to work on behalf of refugees.

“We must accept Christ’s salvation, His Gospel of love, so that the many forms of inequality and discrimination in the present world may be eliminated. No one must be excluded,” he wrote. 

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