Let us Welcome the Stranger: A Church Leaders Message for Christmas 1999

Monday, December 20 1999

This is a season to celebrate the gifts which family and friends bring into our lives. Christmas is also a time when we are invited to consider the plight of those who come seeking a home and a place of shelter. As there was 2000 years ago, there must be a place of welcome for strangers, a “room in our inn”.
The Christmas story reminds us that Mary and Joseph lived in a colony of a great empire. The
political and economic interests of Rome dictated that a census be taken of everyone in the empire and so this family was uprooted and forced to go to Bethlehem in order to be counted.
Like millions of uprooted people throughout the world, Mary and Joseph searched long and hard for a place for their child to be born. They were turned away again and again until they finally found a place of welcome.
After the birth of the child Jesus, the family was forced to flee from persecution and to seek refuge in a foreign country. No doubt the journey was long and dangerous and the hope of a safe arrival must have been dimmed at times. Yet, it was then as it is now, a journey of hope and an act of faith that there would be people who recognize their plight and would welcome them.
Refugees are doubly homeless, having been evicted not only from their homes but from their  country and culture as well. And the door to our country is far from open. In Canadian embassies and consulates overseas the door is all too often closed in the face of those desperately seeking protection.
Over the past six months, there has been some vehement public expression of suspicion and even
hatred at some of the strangers who have come to our border. We know and understand that not
everyone who comes to this country claiming refugee status is indeed a refugee, but every human
being is a creature of God and must be treated with respect for that basic human dignity.
Christmas is a time for us to take account of ourselves as a nation. We have a capacity for tolerance, generosity and decency which we are capable of in our better moments and which we showed in our response to refugees from Kosovo. As we look at our economic surplus and anticipate tax cuts, let us not forget to remove the fees and charges which were applied to refugees and their families – the so called “head tax”. As with Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, happiness and contentment is found in moments of generosity and sharing with others.
Let us welcome the stranger who comes seeking peace and safety in our country. Let us welcome
the stranger with our hearts and in our lives. In this way, the hope which was born for the world 2000 years ago will be born anew.

The Most Rev. Michael G. Peers
The Anglican Church of Canada
Rev. Robert Wilkins
Canada Representative
Canadian Baptist Ministries
The Most Rev. Gerald Weisner, OMI
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ray Elgersma
Canadian Ministries Director
Christian Reformed Churches in Canada
Bishop Telmor Sartison
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Marvin Frey
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee – Canada
The Rev. Dr. Arthur Van Seters
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Gordon McClure
Clerk, Yearly Meeting
The Religious Society of Friends
Commissioner Norman Howe
Territorial Commander
The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda
The Right Rev. Bill Phipps
The United Church of Canada