Bishops of Canada Reflect on Immigration, Receive Reports on CCODP

Thursday, October 20 2011

(CCCB – Ottawa)… The third day of the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) included a reflection on immigration, animated by the Chairman of the Commission for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien of Kingston. In addition, the Bishops of the English Sector held their annual meeting, and the Standing Committee on the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) presented its first annual report. The Bishops who serve as the two CCCB delegates on the CCODP National Council, Bishop Claude Champagne, O.M.I., of Edmundston, and Bishop Richard Grecco of Charlottetown, also presented their annual outline of CCODP activities over the past year.

For the session on immigration, the Justice and Peace Commission had invited Dr. Martin Mark from the Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto. He shared his experiences with immigration, focusing particularly on Canadian legislation.

Each year, he said, Canada welcomes on average about a quarter of a million immigrants and refugees. Sixty percent of these obtain their permanent residency on the basis of criteria that assess their capacity to contribute to the country’s economy, while 40% obtain residency on humanitarian grounds. Those immigrating for humanitarian reasons are mainly refugees in situations of distress, Dr. Mark said. According to the Geneva Convention, he added, the Government of Canada has an obligation to welcome and ensure the protection of each person who arrives and can substantiate a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, political opinion or other factors listed in the Convention.

In 2011, the Archdiocese of Toronto sponsored more than 500 refugees, an effort involving more than 145 parishes and religious communities. According to Dr. Mark, this example is reminiscent of the spirit of generosity that welcomed the Vietnamese “boat people” 30 years ago. “We need more active involvement from the Church,” he said. “There are opportunities for each and every one of us to help in one way or another. We must constantly rethink our role.” As possible options, he proposed opening a referral activity for the refugee sponsorship program, or cooperating more with the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, or with the International Catholic Migration Commission, or other worldwide partners who might not even know what he called a “very unique Canadian model.” “We must not abandon our obligation toward those whose lives are in danger, but welcome the strangers in our midst,” Dr. Mark concluded.

Standing Committee on Development and Peace

The Most Reverend John A. Boissonneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto and Chair of the Standing Committee on CCODP, outlined the work accomplished by the committee during its first year, including its collaboration with the Liaison Committee that has been established by the CCODP National Council. Bishop Boissonneau echoed the same message of the media release issued after the 19 September 2011 joint meeting of the CCCB Standing Committee and the CCODP Liaison Committee: “both committees are pleased with the constructive and positive nature” of their joint efforts. During the 19 October session of the Plenary Assembly, the Bishops of Canada reaffirmed their support for and confidence in the Standing Committee and its mandate. They also noted how for over 40 years, CCODP has been a visible witness of the Church’s social teaching as well as its concern and commitment for human development in the Global South.

About 75 Bishops from across the country are participating in the Plenary Assembly, which is reviewing pastoral activities of the past year and also provides a forum for them to share their experiences and insights on the life of the Church and on the major events that shape society.