Dear Friends in Christ:
Over the past 18 months of the pandemic, we were told repeatedly to “stay home, stay safe” to keep ourselves and our households healthy and well. Here in Canada, we tried to stay put, to keep COVID-19 virus transmissions in check, even though it quickly became tedious and frustrating to do so. But what about those people around the world for whom staying home, even staying in one’s own country, is not an option, not the safe choice?
We are witnessing the highest levels of human displacement in history. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, by mid-2020 there were 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide – just over 1% of the world’s population, 26.3 million of whom are refugees, and about half of these are under the age of 18.
Canada was the first nation in the world to offer a Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, which has allowed Canadians to offer protection and a new home to more than 327,000 refugees since its beginning in 1979. Under this program, over 120 organizations, including 14 Anglican dioceses, hold sponsorship agreements with the federal government, in which they commit to supporting refugees during the first year of their life in Canada. In 2018, Canada accounted for one-third of the world’s total refugee resettlements, the vast majority of which were resettled through the Private Sponsorship Program.
Our ministry partner AURA is the organization that makes private sponsorship of refugees possible for parishes in the Diocese of Toronto. AURA brings together refugees in need with parishes willing to sponsor them, and supports parishes through the sponsorship process.
Studies have shown that privately sponsored refugees become self-supporting much more quickly than refugees who are solely supported by the government, due to the personal connections they make within the community. For us who follow Jesus, we are inspired to help by the fact that Jesus himself was a refugee, forced to flee to Egypt as an infant with his family when Herod sought to kill him. It’s remembering that Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Taking tangible steps to live out our mission in this way can deepen our faith, bring parishes together, and build bridges between congregations and the wider community.
I am designating Trinity Sunday, May 30, as Refugee Sunday in our Diocese. As it is also the first Sunday after Pentecost, that time when the early Church first awakened to its calling to be a place of welcome for all nations, we can be reminded of how our welcome transforms the world.
Our friends at AURA are working with diocesan staff to produce some resources you can share with your congregation on Refugee Sunday, from a video message to suggested prayers and responsories to helpful factsheets on how you can get involved in this important ministry. These resources will be available on the Diocese’s website the week of May 17.
When the Syrian refugee crisis first captured the Canadian consciousness in 2015, our Diocese was quick to step up, with 80 parishes undertaking refugee sponsorships between October 2015 and May 2017. Those sponsored refugees have put down roots in Canada – working, studying, starting businesses and building our communities. We can be proud of our efforts to support these new Canadians.
Yet the need has not passed – indeed, it is greater than ever. This Refugee Sunday, I invite you and your parish to take the time to reflect on our call to welcome the stranger. How can you be part of this life-changing ministry?
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto