Welcome to the Canadian Augustinian Centre for Social Justice
The Canadian Augustinian Centre for Social Justice will work to break the silence surrounding the poor. Our goal is to help people recognize the social, political and economic conditions surrounding them and take action against these oppressive elements.
This is accomplished by offering
educational workshops/seminars for service
We will work to form linkages, networks
and partnerships among service providers so they can
be effective in building a foundation of community support.
“It would be better no one be hungry, and this necessity did not exist”. St. Augustine
Canadian Augustinian Centre for Social Justice - a Partner in the Foundation of The National Catholic Refugee Sponsors’ Network
It was in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada on May 25-26, 2013 that the inaugural meeting of the National Catholic Refugee Sponsors’ Network took place. In attendance were individuals from all across Canada, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. These included Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) reps, clergy, volunteers, social justice staff, private sponsors and others.
The vision for this network began a few years ago at a refugee sponsors conference held in Pickering, Ontario. Then, in December 2012 in Toronto a 2nd National Refugee Sponsors Conference was held. The vision took an even more sold form. There was support from the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Thomas Cardinal Collins of Toronto, and representatives from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). At that time a working group was established and charged with organizing the meeting to occur just prior to the National SAH meeting in Vancouver in May 2013. The organizing committee handled the preparations for the meeting such as agenda and invitations. Those invited included Catholic SAH reps as well as parishioners involved in refugee sponsorship, Catholic groups and Religious Congregations such as the Order of St. Augustine.
This work of sponsoring refugees is seen as a pastoral response to the phenomenon and growing crisis of migration in our world today. The gospel clearly depicts Jesus himself and his family as migrants fleeing to Egypt for fear of persecution. Jesus himself exhorts us to welcome the stranger and feed the hungry. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People addresses this issue and recognizes the importance for the Church to collaborate with states to protect the rights of migrants and refugees. We are challenged to imagine a different future for refugees. Pope Benedict XVI defined migration as a great resource for humanity’s development. They call on the Church to take up an advocacy role in the defence of human rights and dignity. They also suggest that national Episcopal Commissions for the pastoral care of migrants and refugees be created.
In Canada, there are individuals, parishes, groups and dioceses working to sponsor and help settle refugees but they all do it alone. The Augustinian Centre, in conjunction with local, provincial and national bodies has come to realize that there would be great benefit if there were a national network of those involved in refugee sponsorship and settlement.
What is a Refugee?
According to the United Nations, a refugee is a “person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
For example, Christians who have been persecuted in Iraq have fled the country and sought protection under the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). They may have gone to Syria, or Turkey and live in a zone protected by the UN. They then apply to the Canadian Embassy to come to Canada as a refuge and await a sponsor. The Government of Canada then seeks out SAH’s to accept these files and begin the sponsorship process.
The vision of the network is one of collaboration, support and communication. Some of the objectives for this network include the following:
- Provide a central location for enquiries regarding Catholic sponsorship in Canada
- Serve as a resource centre for those seeking information, referrals, contacts or research on sponsorship
- Increase awareness of the need for more sponsors in many and various dioceses across Canada
- Provide support for dioceses, parishes and groups as they become involved in refugee sponsorship
- Establish a central point of reference for both the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference (CCCB) and the Federal Government
- Create a communication system to the CCCB and the Government from the dioceses and parishes involved in refugee sponsorship
- Collaborate with the CCCB in carrying out the gospel values and teachings to serve and help those who are marginalized
- Advocate for refugees by defining and bringing forth issues, concerns and problems to the Federal Government and proactively putting forth policy and process recommendations
- Increase the skills and abilities of Catholic sponsoring groups and organizations in terms of Government regulations, practices and processes so that the network can provide a clearing house for news, information, resources and education
The Meeting in Vancouver
The first day, Saturday May 25, was spent discussing and sharing with one another the reasons why this meeting was convened, the history of this concept, updates on the progress so far and some idea of the vision and rationale for this network. Several current issues were discussed. These were to set the basis for the network. These included; the gap in communication between the CCCB and Catholic refugee sponsors across Canada, the status of Syrian refugees, ideas about how to communicate as a network with the Federal Government or other groups, new approaches like the blended initiative, etc. The day concluded with Mass celebrated by Fr. Salmad Baliyos and then dinner.
The second day, Sunday May 26, was devoted to making concrete plans for the formation of the network, developing specific tasks and choosing an interim committee to take responsibility for moving the network forward. Small groups worked on the mandate of the network. Some key ideas for the mandate included; coordination of Catholic refugee sponsors across Canada whether they be a SAH or local parishioner or diocesan office, establishing a voice or point of contact for Catholic refugee sponsors to communicate with groups such as the CCCB, Government and others, advocate on behalf of refugees and others, and build technical competence among all Catholics involved in refugee sponsorship. A working committee of five was established to begin the work. There were several items for immediate action. They are: sending a summary report of this meeting to the CCCB and CIC and others, continue to develop the mandate, by-laws, regulations, objectives and membership categories of the network, and provide ongoing updates on progress to all participants.
The meeting concluded on a positive note to move forward with the network.
The following are some links that may be of assistance:
- Office for Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto (ORAT)– http://www.archtoronto.org/refugee/
- Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) – http://www.cccb.ca/site/
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) - http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/index-can.asp
- United Nations (UN) - http://www.un.org/en/