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Canadian Bishops Issue Pastoral Letter: Canada must demonstrate every effort to welcome immigrants and refugees with dignity

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(CCCB – Ottawa) … Never before over the past 70 years has such a large proportion of Canadians originated from other countries.  With almost 20 percent of Canadians being immigrants, a pastoral letter released today by the Canadian Catholic Bishops outlines a number of problems which they say are having a serious impact on immigrants and refugees.

The document is by the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). It is being released a few days prior to the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, an initiative of the Holy See over many years, which will be celebrated in Canada and around the world on Sunday, 15 January.

Lancement de la lettre pastorale sur l'immigration
Participants to the launching of the Pastoral Letter: Mrs. Élisabeth Garant, consultant on the Commission for Social Affairs of the CCCB (CSA-CCCB), Mr. Alfred Lukhanda, Congolese immigrant, Mrs. Elizabeth McWeeny, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees and Coordinator of Refugee Sponsorship for the Diocese of Thunder Bay, Most Rev. Roger Ébacher, Archbishop of Gatineau and chairman of the CSA-CCCB, and Most Rev. Brendan M. O'Brien, archbishop of St. John's and member de la CSA-CCCB

At a news conference today, Most Reverend Roger Ébacher, Archbishop of Gatineau and Chairman of the Episcopal Commission, shared a number of concerns about the reception and integration of immigrants in Canada. He said that while Canadians can rejoice that a country as fortunate as theirs welcomes a large number of immigrants – 235,000 permanent residents arrived in Canada in 2004 – the federal and provincial governments must do more to reduce the obstacles that face these new arrivals.

“It is a fundamental inversion of values when laws and politics place national interests before human dignity,” he added, noting that refugees often become scapegoats in national security questions, especially since 11 September 2001.

Addressing the human sufferings that these intolerable situations create, the bishops say their pastoral work must also include political values when these have such a major impact on human lives.  The pastoral letter outlines a number of political recommendations, which are also endorsed by other groups that are concerned about immigration:

  • Abrogating the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the Unite States
  • Introducing the appeal system for refugee claimants as required by Canadian immigration law
  • Eliminating obstacles which impede the speedy reunification of families
  • Reducing the waiting period for collective sponsorships
  • Reinforcing laws on human trafficking, particularly measures to protect victims

The Canadian bishops also ask all levels of government to be more welcoming to immigrants by providing:

  • Better reception for newcomers
  • Greater access to public services and decent living conditions
  • Recognition of the education and competence of immigrants
  • More opportunities in the workplace
  • Improved protections for migrant workers

Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien, Archbishop of St. John’s and member of the Commission, indicated: “We wish to emphasize that our recommendations target all candidates in this election campaign who aspire to a role in governing this country, no matter their political allegiance.  We invite all Canadian Christians to use the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, as well as the election campaign, to voice their objections againt injustices which victimize refugees, and to intervene in immigration cases.”

The Commission hopes its pastoral letter will encourage and recognize Catholics and others who generously assist refugees and immigrants.  These efforts include the thousands of persons who are members of organizations which welcome immigrants, help them become integrated into society, and defend their rights.  Catholic dioceses and organizations are estimated to have sponsored more than 180,000 immigrants.  The bishops also cite the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) which is helping to protect women and children caught in human trafficking.

Archbishop Ébacher added, “As pastors, we invite the faithful of our Church to inform our society about their remarkable contributions to refugees and immigrants, but we also urge Catholics to be even more involved in the name of our faith.”

Archbishop O’Brien said that “Immigrants enrich Canadian society and help us to be more open to the world at a time when, if global challenges are to be met, all people need to be in solidarity.  For Christians, welcoming the stranger is an expression of faith.”

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Last Updated on Friday, May 04 2007  
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