As we consider the plight of Middle Eastern refugees, we would do well to remember, “There but for the grace of God go I,” a phrase generally attributed to 16th Century Church of England reformer and martyr John Bradford.
The fact is that if any of us were enduring conditions of war, starvation, oppression and deprivation like those refugees, we would be fleeing too – seeking help, safety, a new start, a better life. But, apart from feelings of empathy, what do we do about it? What is our duty and responsibility as human beings, as citizens of the world, as Christians, as Canadians?
That question needs to be considered not only compassionately, but also carefully, intelligently. The emotional tug on our hearts when we saw the photo of the little boy washed up on an Algerian beach, followed by our immediate desire to help the refugees, is most human and commendable, but should we not pause a moment to also think?
What we are seeing is a human tragedy of epic proportions and a moral challenge. But the problem also comprises political, military, cultural, religious, financial, economic, social, health and security issues.
The Pope has asked Catholic parishes to each consider sponsoring two refugee families. The Vatican has also offered to take two refugee families. But why only two? Why not 2,000 for the Vatican and 200 for each Catholic parish? Why have the European countries who have agreed to take refugees only committed to take just so many of the millions already displaced let alone the millions more coming behind them? The answer is obvious.
Yes, we can and ought to help, but whom, how and how fast? How many would you take? How do we square all those other realities? How much are you willing to commit, to risk, to spend? Just as the Mediterranean has claimed so many overloaded boats – thousands more if the Italian and Greek navies were not rescuing them, the destination boats called Germany, Italy, Greece, the Vatican, etc, and yes, Canada, can also be overwhelmed by that tidal wave of suffering humanity if we allow it to wash over us without thought.
Unfortunately, being in the midst of an election has complicated the issue for Canadians. All parties have committed to an increase in the number of refugees we will welcome here, but only the Conservatives are not playing politics. Only the prime minister has offered a measured and balanced approach and correctly pointed out that no matter how many we take, there will be millions more left behind and more pictures of bodies on the beaches. Only the PM has been honest and daring enough to face the wave of contrary national emotion and the manipulation by the opposition parties and Harper-haters to score political points.
Our Conservative government is showing real leadership. Canada will help and do more, but lets do it thoughtfully and on our own terms.