A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘refugees

As I’ve mentioned in my last couple of posts, I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about the upcoming arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada. But there are also positive stories to share:

  • people taking a stand on social media to say they won’t tolerate negative rants about the refugee situation instead of calm discussion and unfriending others where necessary to turn off the tap of negativity
  • organizations mobilizing to provide health care, housing and language instruction to newcomers
  • average Canadians looking for ways they can help—everything from knitting scarves and hats to providing translation and interpretation services

Those who argue we shouldn’t help refugees when our nation already has people in need should read  1 John 3:17-18*:

But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.

It’s not enough to say that we already have citizens in need of our help. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and ask what we’re doing to help—not the municipal, provincial or federal governments, but we as individuals:

  • If we’re concerned that there are homeless Canadians now, are we encouraging our politicians to support subsidized housing or are we opposing these projects in our community?
  • If we’re concerned that there are hungry Canadians now, are we contributing even a few dollars’ worth of groceries to the food bank bin at our local grocery or department store, preparing Christmas food hampers for our church or community food bank, or donating to or serving at a local mission’s holiday (or everyday) dinner?
  • If we’re concerned that there are Canadians in need of winter clothes now, are we donating new or gently used winter gear to clothing drives or making items with our knitting, crocheting, sewing or quilting skills?
  • If we’re concerned that there are Canadians in need of jobs now, are we using our connections to help others find work? Are we mentoring youth or adults in transition from other careers? Are we offering volunteer opportunities to help others gain skills and network?

Instead of just using our words to point out the needs that exist before the refugees arrive, I pray that we would use our time, talents and connections to help meet these needs.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

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(A) blow of the tongue crushes the bones.

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword,

but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue.

~ Sirach 28:17-18*

Since the attacks on Paris, social media have been buzzing with opinions on how to handle ISIS and whether Canada and other countries should take in Syrian refugees in case terrorists should lurk among them.

Many are already rolling up the welcome mat. Following today’s announcement about the federal government’s refugee resettlement plan, some posted comments about “foreign migrants” carrying “fake passports” and describing refugees as “welfare tourists.”

Those may be some of the less acidic posts.

No matter how we feel about the number of refugees and the timeline—whether we feel there are too many or too few people coming too soon or not soon enough—verbally bashing refugees will get us nowhere. Unless, of course, we aim to be seen as lacking in compassion.

The kind of comments I’ve read would make me want to unfriend or unfollow the writers or, at the very least, delete their comments, which do little to accurately describe the refugees soon to arrive but reveal a great deal about the writers.

Surely we can have a discussion or even a debate on the issue that doesn’t involve tarring refugees with a terrorist brush simply because of the region they’re coming from or entail waging personal attacks on other commenters who disagree with the writers’ perspective.

We shouldn’t act as though using a screen name gives us licence to make comments we wouldn’t say in person or pretend that we can avoid taking responsibility for our words just because we hide behind a (thin) shield of anonymity.

Before posting such biting comments online, maybe we could take a cue from Sirach 28:24-25:

See that you fence in your property with thorns,

lock up your silver and gold,

make balances and scales for your words,

and make a door and a bolt for your mouth.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

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.

“People who aren’t kind to animals aren’t kind to people,” my mother has often said, and I’ve found that to be true. So these words of St. Francis of Assisi quoted in Catholic Digest struck a chord with me:

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.

~ Quoted in “Celebrate October 2015,” Catholic Digest, October 2015

Certainly we don’t see enough compassion toward animals these days. We see people who leave their dogs in sweltering cars in the summer or walk them on hot sidewalks on high-heat-and-humidity days or who abandon a kitten in a garbage bag at a city park.

We also don’t see enough compassion toward people. We see people who tell the unemployed to “get a job.” People who turn back refugees with tear gas and water cannons and fences. People who set homeless men on fire.

It would be easy to feel sad or angry for a moment but then shrug our shoulders and say, “What can I do?”

Too easy.

As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (quoted in “Celebrate October 2015,” Catholic Digest, October 2015).

We need to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:34-36, 40*:

“Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

We should feel saddened or angered by these news stories, but, as Christians, we are called to go beyond that reaction and respond out of compassion.

Maybe that means volunteering at or supporting an animal sanctuary such as the Wild Bird Care Centre or the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, shelters such as the Ottawa Mission or the Shepherds of Good Hope, our parish or community food bank, or women’s shelters such as those mentioned in my post on September 25th. Maybe it means finding out how to help refugees through such organizations as Refugee 613 or ministering to inmates and ex-inmates through such organizations as Prison Fellowship Canada.

What it doesn’t mean is hardening our hearts. May we, like Samaritan’s Purse founder Bob Pierce, continue to let our hearts “be broken with the things that break the heart of God” and be moved to act.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)


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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