TORONTO – For Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, the fate of Iraqi Christians trapped in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon is not just another tough case in an unfair world full of too much heartbreak. For him, the situation is personal.
Archbishop Collins has written to his fellow bishops across Canada about the fate of Iraqi Christian refugees, asking them to encourage refugee sponsorship in their dioceses. He has urged pastors in Toronto to get their parishes involved in sponsoring refugees.
He is also personally sponsoring a refugee family.
“Helping refugees is important in this world in which so many people are suffering, and I want personally to assist in this,” Archbishop Collins told The Catholic Register, a Canadian weekly, in an e-mail.
Archbishop Collins – like any parish sponsoring a refugee family – will wait months before he gets to meet the family picked out for him by the archdiocesan Office for Refugees. However, wait times for Iraqis are among the shortest for privately sponsored refugees.
As a Christian community, the Catholic Church in Toronto should feel a special bond with Christian refugees from Iraq, said the archbishop.
“We should always seek to help any people who are suffering, and the people of our archdiocese have always done so,” Archbishop Collins wrote. “But at this time, many Christians are suffering because of their faith, and we need in a particular way to reach out to them.”
The archbishop created the Office for Refugees not long after becoming archbishop of Toronto. Last year he set a goal of doubling the number of refugees sponsored by parishes and religious communities in the archdiocese.
The archbishop’ example has made it easier to persuade parishes to be involved, said the refugee office’s executive director, Martin Mark.
Given the number of Catholics in Toronto who were refugees themselves or are descended from refugees, it’s not a tough sell, Mark said.
“In the Lithuanian Martyrs Parish, which has nothing to do with Iraq, they understood years ago that regardless of whether (the refugees) are Lithuanian, if they are persecuted and we have the means to help, why not?” he said.
Mark spent all of July in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, interviewing refugee families and choosing 200 for future sponsorship through the Office for Refugees. He is also in talks with Citizenship and Immigration Canada on ways of speeding up the sponsorship process.