Msgr. Makarios Wehbi (with book) is followed by Bishop John Boissonneau in the entrance procession for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Mass Sept. 23 at Markham’s Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Joshua Ben Joseph

Canada must continue to open doors for refugees

By  Joshua Ben Joseph, Catholic Register Special
  • September 25, 2023

Special prayers were offered to Christians under recent attack in Africa and west Asia as the Archdiocese of Toronto commemorated the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2023 Sept. 24.

The Mass, celebrated together with the parish community of Jesus the King Greek Melkite Church, took place at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ont., where celebrant Msgr. Makarios Wehbi championed Pope Francis’ theme for the year, “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay.” 

In a moving homily, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau gave an insight on how the Catholic Church was the forerunner in advocating for the betterment of displaced people and communities. 

“Others recognize World Refugee Day, which was held globally for the first time on June 20, 2001, remembering the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” said Boissonneau. “The Church has been celebrating World Day of Refugees and Migrants since 1914.”

Boissonneau added that the reality and the need of individuals forced to leave their homes has always been a matter of concern for the universal Church and reminded the community to welcome Jesus by welcoming refugees.

The Archdiocese of Toronto has been on the forefront of refugee resettlement since the inception of the country’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees program in 1979.

“We along with about 135 other organizations have signed an agreement with Immigration Canada to name refugees that we wish to resettle to Canada. This particularly came to the floor, in 2009, at the height of the Iraqi refugee crisis. Where the Iraqi community, the Chaldean community, approached our then Archbishop (Cardinal) Thomas Collins, and asked him to assist the people who were suffering,” said Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, director of the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office for Refugees.

In the last 12 years the archdiocese has resettled roughly 6,000 refugees in Canada. This has not only been limited to reuniting families that have been separated, but also to sponsoring individuals with no familial ties in the country.

Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative Party, shared his appreciation for the Mass and its hosts. In a written message, Poilievre stood in solidarity with the people who were forced to leave their homes. 

“Along their journeys, many of these people have come to the message of hope, found in the Gospel of Christ. In moments of hardships, they have taken cover in God’s steadfast faithfulness and found healing and fellowship in the Catholic Church, and all Christian churches,” he said. “Today and every day we pray for all those who embark on an uncertain journey of rebuilding their lives in an unfamiliar country.”

Additionally, Poilievre highlighted that Canada is a land of hope and opportunity for millions of people.

In an interview, Wehbi quoted Matthew 2:13 and drew parallels between the ongoing refugee crisis and the plight of the Holy Family in Egypt.

“It is the mission of the Catholic Church to welcome the refugees and help them settle in a new country, because Jesus Himself was a refugee in Egypt. It was from here that He was called to the Holy Land and to the whole world,” Wehbi said.

He also urged people to open their doors and make it their mission to become a refuge for strangers.

Ovcjak further voiced the need to be educated about the religious dimension of the ongoing refugee crisis, an issue, he says, that is unprecedented and greater than what the world faced during the Second World War.

He also stressed the need for intervention against the persecution of Christians in Africa. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that more than 450 Christians have been killed in a span of attacks since May, on top of other religiously motivated persecution happening across sub-Saharan Africa.

The situation has remained vastly unchanged, according to Luciano Moro, who moved to Canada from Sudan in 2000. He mentioned that while he received the opportunity to move in the midst of the Civil War, many weren’t as lucky.

“Much of our office takes inspiration from the words of St. Paul speaking to the Church, ‘When we have opportunity let’s be good to all men,’ ” said Ovcjak.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.