I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me” Pastoral Letter on Welcoming Refugees

The Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) published their Pastoral Letter on October 26, 2015. In their four section letter they begin by explaining in the first section (Why We Are Writing) the rationale for the letter. They are direct in saying, “We believe that discussion is not enough; this is a time for urgent action”. The CCCB is indicating that the traditional definition of a “refugee” is no longer adequate. They declare, “We can now add a new category of climate or environmental refugees”.

In the second section entitled “Biblical Teaching” the Bishops remind us that Jesus himself was a refugee, “Even the child Jesus himself was a refugee when his family fled the persecution of King Herod (Matthew 2.13-14)”. The key phrase is from the Gospel of St. Mathew – “I was a stranger and you
welcomed me” (Matthew 25.35).

The next section, “Welcoming and Protecting Refugees” reminds us clearly that what we as Church can do is not only limited to simply assisting and supporting the refugee as they progress through the process of selection, but must look to full inclusion that clearly respects differences. This section goes on to note the many issues in need of clarification. These include: accelerating procedures, emphasis on family reunification, asylum, appeal procedures and others.

The final section (The Church: Speaking and Acting on Behalf of Refugees) the challenge is clear, “Our faith calls us to let ourselves be moved – even disturbed – by our sisters and brothers who are refugees”. The Bishops note and congratulate the many parishes and other groups who have sponsored refugees over the years. In terms of the Government, the Bishops say, “It is imperative that this Catholic voice be heard by the Canadian government”. There are several practical ideas that are meant for all of us to undertake. These include: call on the federal government, praying for refugees in camps around the world, support Development and Peace and CNEWA, create local diocesan services, mark World Day of Migrants and Refugees, provide formation for pastors and pastoral workers and establish a pastoral ministry for migrants.

You can read the entire letter here.

Bishops of Canada urge the Government – take action on refugee sponsorship

In a letter to the country’s national political leaders, the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., Bishop of Hamilton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, asks them to collaborate in better assisting refugees. “No matter which of you may be invited to form the next government and to serve as the next leader of the official opposition – to support efforts by the government and individual members of Parliament to ensure Canada effectively expands, accelerates and facilitates the private sponsorship of refugees. We particularly urge you to find more effective ways of reuniting refugee families, and to recognize the special urgency of the needs of children, single-parent families, and those minorities and individuals facing persecution.”

The Bishop also said that the Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT) is one of the nation’s largest refugee agencies. Staff from other Catholic dioceses and eparchies have formed a special organization, the Catholic Refugee Sponsors’ Council. Both ORAT and the Sponsors’ Council are active in providing advice and information for groups wishing to initiate sponsorship or resettlement, or already involved in such efforts.
“On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, I assure you that we will do all we can to cooperate with you, as well as with provincial and municipal governments, in assisting, sponsoring and resettling refugees from Syria, from throughout the Middle East, and from other areas of the world that are experiencing conflict or persecution. Furthermore, we will continue to collaborate in providing humanitarian assistance to the millions of others throughout the world who have been displaced because of famine, poverty or environmental disaster.”
You can read the entire letter here.


On September 17, 2015 the CCCB published a statement endorsing and supporting a joint Canadian fundraising campaign by Development and Peace (CCODP), Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada. The campaign invites Canadians to organize their own parish collections from now until Sunday, November 15, 2015, inclusive. Each diocese is free to decide how it will distribute the funds among the three national agencies. The three Canadian Catholic aid and development agencies will collaborate in their fundraising for Syrian refugees, so as to respond as effectively as possible to the complex and overwhelming Syrian emergency.

Development and Peace will work to expand its ongoing efforts to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries in the Middle East.It will also expand its reach through the Caritas international family to come to the aid of the thousands of migrants who have fled across the Mediterranean Sea and are now seeking shelter.
ACN and CNEWA will continue to support all refugees affected by this war and will also give special attention to Christian refugees and displaced persons, hoping to ensure a continued Christian presence in the Middle East.
The three agencies will later send reports to Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada on the total funds received for Syrian refugees as a result of the new campaign. At a special meeting held during the 2015 Plenary Assembly, the Conference’s Permanent Council stated it rejoices at the news some Canadian dioceses and eparchies have already launched or will soon launch their own projects in aid of Syrian refugees.
You can read the entire statement here.
Further resources. Click on the links below for further information

Canadian bishops’ social justice document raises plight of refugees

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News published an article in the Catholic Register on September 8, 2015. She says that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ justice and peace commission has published a 20-page document, “A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada,” specifically addressing the plight of refugees along with questions it raises regarding Canada. She quotes Bishop Don Bolen from Saskatoon the chair the justice and peace commission who says, ““I hope that all the attention given to the Syrian refugees and the immediate coverage in recent days highlights the tremendous suffering of refugees and the tens of millions of people who are caught in this situation.”

The document, however, does not only challenge governments to bring in more refugees, it asks, “Should your church community?” The document also cites United Nations figures placing the number of people around the world displaced by war, persecution and conflict at 59.5 million. The section on refugees is only one of many in a 20-page document that touches on many areas that are dealt with under headings of “human dignity and labour; war and peace; and economics.”

In reference to the message of Pope Francis when he speaks of ‘globalization of indifference,’  We have become accustomed to the suffering of others. That doesn’t concern us.”

You can read Deborah’s complete article by clicking here.

You can read the entire 20 page document from the CCCB “A Church Seeking Justice” by clicking here.