Catholic church members walk in solidarity with refugees and Development and Peace

Roman Catholics around the world are walking in solidarity with forced migrants. On July 6 Islanders gathered at Our Lady of Canada Church in Mindemoya for a fundraising walk of 7.5 kilometres.

MINDEMOYA—Recent polls done in Canada suggest that the attitude of Canadians has toughened when it comes to immigration and the movement of migrants and refugees into this country. Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a recent CBC poll said this country should not take in any more refugees while an Angus Reid poll showed that 49 percent of Canadians think that the level of immigration targets are set too high. This shows a large rise in opposition recently as a 2014 poll showed 36 percent were against the target set.

Canada continues to accept large numbers of immigrants each year as this country’s birth rate has fallen consistently and an aging population leads to a demand for skilled workers. As far as migrants and refugees are concerned, opinions show that Canadians are becoming more intolerant and that racism, in many cases, has reared its ugly head.

Islanders will perhaps be surprised to learn that Canada has only accepted 1.7 percent of the world’s 3.4 million new refugees. This point was brought home on June 6 when Manitoulin’s Roman Catholics took part in a 7.5-kilometre walk to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and to dispel some myths.

Called Share the Journey, the project is a part of Caritas, an organization of 165 Catholic relief, development and social services agencies found in over 200 countries which seeks to build a better world. Caritas is a Latin word meaning love and compassion and is one of the largest aid and development agencies in the world. Development and Peace is the official advancement organization of the Catholic Church in Canada.

In dispelling some myths, it is noted that contrary to the belief that northern countries welcome the vast majority of refugees, 85 percent have found refuge in the poorest countries on the planet. Another myth is that refugees are only fleeing a temporary situation, when in fact two-thirds of refugees will spend more than five years in exile. Contrary to popular belief, refugees do not all live in refugee camps, but in independent housing which accounts for 61.4 percent. 

Perhaps the most outstanding myth is that refugees threaten the cultural identity and values of Canadians. In fact, one in five Canadians are foreign-born, accounting for 7.5 million of our population.

It is estimated that every minute 31 million people are forced to flee their homes. These so-called forced migrants, says Development and Peace, are categorized according to the causes that compel them to flee and where they find refuge so they may be named refugees, internally displaced persons or asylum seekers. Today there are 68.5 million people who are forced migrants, consisting of 40 million displaced people, 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 asylum seekers. 

There are many reasons why these people flee including drug wars, insurgencies, war between nations, territorial struggles and persecution based on ethnicity, religion, political opinion and nationality. The development of megaprojects, including mining, oil and gas exploitation, hydroelectric dams, tourism and agri-business plantations can force people out of an area. Other reasons for leaving, according to Development and Peace Caritas Canada, include environmental factors such as drought, water shortages, food insecurity, famine, natural disasters and climate change, as well as extreme poverty, mass unemployment, political instability and weak governance and the denial of basic rights and freedoms.

The Recorder spoke with Diana Legree at Our Lady of Canada Church in Mindemoya, the site where the Share the Journey walkers gathered for the walking fundraiser.
“We are walking in solidarity with refugees,” Ms. Legree said. “Making it more public. People don’t understand.”

The goal of these walks across Canada was to complete the challenge of walking 40,075 kilometres, the equivalent of the circumference of the Earth. But, as walker Jack Brady explained, the goal was being reached so quickly that the new challenge is to walk 1 million kilometres.

Sean Patterson of Kagawong is a youth representative for Development and Peace and he also spoke of the Journey. Mr. Patterson encourages youth engagement in Northern Ontario and ensures that youth voices are heard at the National Youth Conferences. He is a Law and Justice student at the University of Sudbury (the Roman Catholic college of Laurentian University and works to engage youth in Development and Peace, Caritas Canada.

Journey organizer Keith Legree spoke to the participants before the walk, saying, “each one of us has been on a journey. To the Island and so on. Pope Francis encourages us to walk for migrants with arms wide open. The walk is a gesture of solidarity and also that Canada has to step up regarding forced migrants. We are very blessed in Canada. We have a roof over our heads, food and so on. God gave us an important gift, the gift of service. Arms wide open to the migrants of the world.”