A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘intolerance

Today I heard on the radio that a local woman (who happens to be Muslim) received a hateful letter in her mailbox that said Canada was no place for immigrants and told her to “go home.”

I’d like to point out just how mistaken that writer is.

I’m not an immigrant myself, just the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants. My husband is the grandson of immigrants. Some of my friends are immigrants; others are first- or second-generation Canadians. If we looked back far enough—not all that far, in many cases—most of us in the Americas are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.

Clearly, Canada is a place for immigrants, whether they come to join family already in the country, to pursue a better life, to support family members in their country of origin, or to flee persecution of whatever kind as refugees.

As for going “home,” whether people were born here or chose to make a new life here, this is their home. That’s why our national anthem talks about “our home and native land.”

I’m saddened but not surprised to conclude that the letter writer, upset by the attacks in Paris or perhaps by the plan to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada, meant that those who were not white and Christian were not welcome in this city, in this country. I can’t disagree strongly enough. No one can point to a person and say that he or she “looks Canadian” or  “acts like a Canadian.” Canadians come in a wide range of skin tones, ethnicities and faiths.

If the writer happens to believe that immigrants have nothing to offer our society, again, I beg to differ. A quick look at the surnames on the staff list of any school, university, law firm, medical practice, hospital, or construction company or the new federal government cabinet would support my opinion. From small businesses to major corporations to non-profit organizations, immigrants contribute to our society and help our economy grow.

Canada is a country known for its diversity and its tolerance. I pray that the ignorance and intolerance displayed by this letter writer and by those who recently attacked Muslim and Hindu places of worship would be pushed aside by Canadians’ offers of help and support for the refugees set to arrive here before the end of the year and for the other immigrants who choose to settle here, for we are all children of God.

On Wednesday night, I attended some concerts at the Ottawa Jazz Festival for the first time. My ticket included an After Dark Series performance by Freshlyground, whose members hail from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Now, I’m not a night owl—I joke that I turn into a pumpkin by 11 p.m.—but I decided to check out the show just the same.

Like many of the concertgoers, I wasn’t familiar with the group’s music, but in the end it didn’t matter. Men and women from their late teens to their seventies and from many different backgrounds danced and sang along late into the evening. We all came together to enjoy the music.

Why can’t we find this harmony in everyday life?

I think about last week’s racially motivated shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and today’s shooting of tourists on a Tunisian beach and bombing of a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, and I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that someone could justify killing others because of differences in ethnicity, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.

How can people believe that others are inferior and less deserving of life, freedom and opportunity? That it’s their job to “cleanse” society of those they consider undesirable and unworthy?

And how do we change this? How can we make even a small difference?

We can decide that an intolerant society is not what we want for ourselves or for our children. We can speak out against bias in news coverage, advertising, movies and books. We can refuse to listen to offensive jokes or comments and explain why we object. We can attend festivals to learn more about and appreciate other cultures. We can pray that we’ll all stop mentally dividing those we meet into us and them and instead see people as people with worries and hopes and aspirations like ours.

If intolerance and prejudice and hatred had their way, our society would be just a melody. May we have the courage to let ours be the voices that say, “Enough,” and to choose to love one another as children of God—whatever our differences. Then we’ll begin to see the beauty in the harmony.

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.

~ St. Francis of Assisi, quoted in “Celebrate June 2015,” Catholic Digest, June / July / August 2015

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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