Relatives carry a coffin in Kobani, Syria, during the Sept. 4 funeral for two Syrian toddlers and their mother who drowned as they were trying to reach Greece


Relatives carry a coffin in Kobani, Syria, during the Sept. 4 funeral for two Syrian toddlers and their mother who drowned as they were trying to reach Greece

September 14, 2015

OTTAWA - With a picture of a drowned little boy dominating headlines by highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada's bishops published a social justice document Sept. 3 pleading for generosity.

Produced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) justice and peace commission, the 20-page document A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada specifically addresses the plight of refugees among other issues.

Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, said the document is the "best, most deeply reflective document the CCCB has produced in a decade."

Gunn said he "found myself with tears in my eyes" at the pictures of little three-year old Alan Kurdi.

The document fits in with Pope Francis' message about "developing a personal relationship with the poor," Gunn said.

"It's not enough to make it a theme song, or a brand or an ideology. That's what the theme of the document is: a poor Church that is for the poor."

Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen, who chairs the justice and peace commission, said he hopes the news coverage given to Syrian refugees in recent days "highlights the tremendous suffering of refugees and the tens of millions of people who are caught in this situation.

"It becomes a news story for us a few days here and there, and then fades out of our consciousness."

"There's a constant crisis," Bolen said. "There are people in their 60s who have spent their entire lives in refugee camps."

The section on refugees is only one of many in a 20-page document.

A Church Seeking Justice places heavy emphasis on the dignity of human labour.

It also addresses war, peace and violence, the economics of exclusion and poverty, and the importance of solidarity in forming human culture.

Among the issues on which the document challenges Canada through the lens of Pope Francis' social teaching are assisted suicide; the plight of Canada's indigenous peoples; poverty and income inequality; arms production and sales; peacemaking; and Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

The document places its commentary on Pope Francis' teaching alongside brief sidebars that raise questions about the Canadian situation.

For example, it gives basic information about temporary foreign workers in Canada and then asks, "What number of temporary foreign workers should Canada accept? Are there good reasons why temporary foreign workers should not receive full provincial health coverage?"

Bolen said the pope's teachings challenge not only governments, but parish communities and individual Catholics. "We need to be with others in charity and compassion and we need to be involved on a structural level addressing issues of injustice."

On the refugee issue, A Church Seeking Justice cites United Nations figures placing the number of people around the world displaced by war, persecution and conflict at 59.5 million.

"We've hit an all-time high," Bolen said. "This is an indication governments need to do more.

"Yes, it would be costly to Canada to bring in more refugees. Should we do it? Without a doubt, yes, I believe we should."

The document, however, does not only challenge governments to bring in more refugees; it asks "Should your Church community?"

It notes how some groups wishing to sponsor refugees have raised concerns about "processing times and government cuts to health coverage for some refugees."

Bolen said A Church Seeking Justice had been in the works for a year and a half. The commission is also working on a document specifically addressing refugees that will be published in the next several months.


The document quotes from the speech Pope Francis gave during his visit to Lampedusa, an island off Sicily "where many refugees and asylum seekers from North Africa have drowned trying to make their way to Europe."

"In that speech, the pope talked about the 'globalization of indifference,'" the bishop said. "We have become accustomed to the suffering of others. That doesn't concern us.

"I think the pope is telling us that business as usual is a catastrophe for huge parts of the world," Bolen said. "We have to rethink the way we build our society, and some of our basic, common presuppositions that are a path to disaster for many people and ultimately for the planet."

A Church Seeking Justice is available on the CCCB website,