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Canada as ‘innkeeper’

Abbot Peter Novokosky

Christmas is a time to celebrate the many positive events in our lives that elicit joy, love, peace and goodwill to all. Christmas cards and songs bear a message of hope and of a yearning for goodness in our world.

There is, of course, an underside to the good wishes of Christmas. The baby born in a manger instead of a warm bed reminds us of this. So does the slight given to a king in favour of lowly shepherds. Then, there’s the flight into Egypt where the Holy Family became refugees.

America has been fighting a political battle on how to handle illegal immigrants. Church leaders advocate mercy and justice for those caught in the middle.

A recent letter from the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service reminded me that Canada is not without shame in how it treats refugees who are seeking a better life in our country. Here is an excerpt:

“This past year has seen some horrifically unfair and unjust initiatives on the part of our federal government. Fighting these proposals and actions takes so much time — time that could be spent more positively. Let me itemize some of the current problems we face:

- The number of claimants admitted, and then accepted, has been significantly reduced. Private sponsorships are now no longer simply ‘a long process’ but a battleground between the Government and parishes and family-related groups resulting in far fewer PSR claimants being accepted. The reasons for this shift are not explained.

- Claimants from ‘designated safe countries’ (such as Hungary or Mexico!) are now rushed through an accelerated process and severely penalized at several levels. Language difficulties, trauma, etc. make these changes a nearly impossible burden.

- Deportations are faster, and claimants are being sent abroad, in complete secrecy, to countries of high risk and sometimes countries in which they have no status.

- Health care coverage is reduced or not offered at all, except for emergencies — while preserving even minimal health care required a Court order against the Government.

- The Government is now trying, with unusual vigour, to have social assistance reduced or eliminated for claimants not yet accepted. Quebec and Ontario each recently refused the federal Government’s ‘invitation’ to the provinces to feel free to cut back on social assistance for asylum seekers — a never-before considered attack on the basic needs of those who fled to our country seeking safety from high risk. If cutbacks actually occurred, it would leave non-profit groups as the only provider.”

At Christmas we listen again to the familiar biblical story and hear how there was no room in the inn. We can’t be smug and criticize the inhumanity of the innkeeper 2,000 years ago. Now, it seems, Canada is like that innkeeper — closing our doors when the need is greater than ever before.

Message for peace

On Dec. 2 Pope Francis, with 11 leaders of other churches and religions, pledged to work together to end modern slavery.

On Jan. 1, in his World Day of Peace message, he returns to the subject — and invites the rest of us to join the crusade.

“Together with the social responsibility of businesses, there is also the social responsibility of consumers,” the pope said. “Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply an economic — act.”

This calls for raising our consciousness and awareness of global realities and injustices. The pope asks us to “feel challenged when, in our daily lives, . . . we are tempted to select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others.”

This means looking not only at the price tag, but also the country of origin tag.