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September 28, 2015

Currently, more than 51 million people around the world are refugees or displaced from their homelands, one of the greatest human tragedies in history. While Canada cannot provide asylum to even most of these people, it does have a moral obligation to provide at least a temporary home to a significant number.

Thousands of parishes and other communities across Canada want to sponsor refugees, mainly from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, but the federal government has unconscionably failed to respond adequately to the crisis.

The Catholic Church offers a clear and detailed teaching on our responsibilities to refugees, outlined in the 1992 Vatican document Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity. Pope Francis has underlined that teaching numerous times with his pleas to overcome the "globalization of indifference." The pope calls nations to "a generous openness" to refugees.

Yet, much of the world remains indifferent or fearful. Indifference in the face of the human needs of refugees is a sin, said the 1992 document. Solidarity, in contrast, provides hope for peace and fraternity in the world.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it should never be forgotten, were themselves refugees from the violence of Herod. When Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25.35), he spoke from experience.

The refugee, said A Challenge to Solidarity, should not be viewed as an object of assistance, but as a person with rights and duties. Democratic nations that fail to respond to the plight of refugees "blatantly contradict the principles that they rightly consider the basis of their culture, established on the equal dignity of every human person."

Countries such as Canada must provide more than physical protection to refugees, meeting all their basic human needs - food, clothing, housing, education, medical assistance, and religious and cultural freedom.

The Church recognizes people in countries that receive refugees may fear being swamped by a tidal wave of needy humanity. However, she urges Christians to overcome selfishness and their fear of the stranger. She calls on pastors to urge parishioners not to see refugees as a threat, but "to walk together with these new brothers and sisters who are themselves rich in particular gifts."

Ultimately, the creation of refugees must be eliminated. The United Nations is responsible for preventing wars and ending those conflicts that already exist. Although the UN has been hamstrung in its ability to be a more active agent for peace, clearing the way for it to assume that role should be high on the agenda for its member nations.

The ongoing refugee crisis is one of the greatest threats to humanity. Responding to the needs of refugees and eliminating the causes of the crisis must be one of the world's top priorities.