Friday, May 6th 2022
World Refugee Day is designated by the United Nations for June 20 of every year. But because June is already full of other observances that deserve attention, I have designated Sunday, May 15, 2022 as the day when the Diocese of Toronto can give dedicated focus to the work of refugee sponsorship and resettlement.
At the time of our first annual Refugee Sunday in May 2021, the world was already witnessing the highest levels of human displacement in history. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, there are 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, nearly half of whom are children under the age of 18. We have all seen the videos, photos and headlines over the past year: Afghanistan falling to the Taliban last August; civil war ravaging Ethiopia; and most recently, Russia’s continuing assault on Ukraine – not to mention ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world. The need is greater than ever.
Hospitality toward the stranger and foreigner is a theme that runs through Scripture. In the Torah, the people of Israel were reminded to welcome the stranger and sojourner, remembering their own history in the land of Egypt. Jesus, who as a child was himself a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to escape the evil King Herod, reminds us that to welcome the stranger is to welcome Him in our midst.
Canada is a world leader in refugee resettlement and was the first nation to offer the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program. What many may not realize is that this program started over 40 years ago when it was the churches that stepped forward to sign private sponsorship agreements with the federal government. Today, faith groups still make up the majority of the over 120 Sponsorship Agreement Holders in Canada. Here in our Diocese, we have been privileged to carry out this ministry for over 35 years in partnership with the Anglican-United Refugee Alliance, or AURA. AURA brings together refugees in need with parishes willing to sponsor them, and supports parishes through the sponsorship process.
In the past year, AURA and diocesan staff have worked together with Anglicans in our Diocese to provide even more support to parish sponsorship groups. There is now a Diocesan Refugee Network that meets regularly via Zoom to share best practices, offer mutual support and explore topics of interest. Occasional workshops offer an opportunity to delve into these topics more deeply. There is also an online bulletin board where members of the network can share everything from key documents to requests for and offers of furniture for newly arrived families. This network provides a way for parishes just embarking on the sponsorship process to learn from other parishes with years of experience, and fosters a sense of being united in a common endeavour across the Diocese.
AURA staff and board members have collected a variety of resources you can share with your congregation this Refugee Sunday. Three new 20-minute videos offer a chance to meet and hear the stories of refugees who have been sponsored by parishes in our Diocese. Updated factsheets answer questions about AURA’s work and the sponsorship process, while a compilation of prayers, litanies and hymn suggestions provide ways to remember refugees and displaced people in in our worship. You can find all these resources here.
Please take the coming week to prepare for how you and your parish might recognize Refugee Sunday on May 15, with intentional prayer and reflection upon Jesus’ call to us to welcome the stranger, to offer safe haven to those in need from around our suffering world.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto