As Christians we have always understood the need to be attentive to people who are forced to flee their homes because of war and persecution to find a place of refuge. For good reason, for Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus were refugees in Egypt.
Present at the meeting was the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I had the opportunity to speak with him before the meeting began. Of interest to people here is that the Minister is a graduate of the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox.
The Conference was sponsored by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support and hosted jointly by the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Diocese of London. Speakers seated at the table were Martin Mark from the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese of Toronto, Fr. Tim Hanley, John McGrath, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs of the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Hon. Jason Kenney, Archbishop Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto and Carl Hetu of CNEWA.
Archbishop Collins spoke of the time of the first bishop of Toronto, Bishop Power, when 40,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Toronto, at that time a city with a population of 20,000 people. They were stricken with typhoid fever and thousands died including Bishop Power who contracted the disease while caring for them. Most recently, the new Auxiliary Bishop for Toronto who was ordained that day, Bishop Vincent Nguyen, fled Vietnam at the age of sixteen as one of the Boat People seeking refuge in Canada. While our goal must be to help people stay in their own country and strengthen them, we must also welcome those who cannot stay
The Hon. Jason Kennedy said that Canada accepts the largest number of refugees from Iraq and the Middle East thanks to the work done by such Catholic agencies as the Archdioces of Toronto. He said that the Church is seen as a parther in this work of welcoming refugees. Canada has welcomed over a million refugees since World War II. Each year 100,000 refugees are settled throughout the world out of a total of a million and a half primarily by twenty developped countries. While the preference is to have people return to a stabilized country, Canada accepts 10,000 to 12,000 refugees who cannot return to their home country because of grave risk. Of these three to four thousand come to Canada through private sponsorship.
I am very pleased and proud that people and parishes in our Archdiocese have been part of this private sponsorship. The great advantage of private sponsorship is the personal care that is give to these people whose lives have been disrupted or shattered. This is a care that government sponsored refugees are not always able to receive. In private sponsorship, the refugees are met at the airport, taken to their home, helped to buy clothing and made sure that they have the necessities of life.
3800 refugees from Iraq have been settled in Canada, most of them are Catholics driven from their homes and country because of their Christian faith. It is especially important for the Church to look at ways to help bring these people to settlement in Canada. There are more people seeking settlement in Canada than the government is able to receive and process. Thus the urgent need for private sponsorship.
The Archdiocese of Regina took part in the National Conference on Refugee Sponsorship through its director of the diocese's Social Justice Office, Bert Pitzel.
Seen here from left to right: Carl Hétu, National Secretary for CNEWA Canada; Gilbert Iyamuremye, Director of the Office of Refugees for the Diocese of London, and Martin Mark, Office fo Refugeews for the archdiocese of Toronto.