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Mass of Welcome for Refugees

St. Joseph Basilica, Edmonton

June 28, 2016

We’ve gathered this evening to express the welcome of this local Catholic community to the refugees who have recently come to us in search of a new home and a new life. Obviously we cannot pretend to know the pain you have experienced and continue to endure at having had to leave your homes under very terrible circumstances. You are our brothers and sisters, and we wish to extend to you not only our words and gestures of welcome but also our pledges and deeds of support. What you have known as home is now behind you; you seek now to establish a new home here in this country. We want to assure you that you have, too, a home — a real home — here in the Church where we are all one as children of our loving God.

I wish this mass also to be an occasion to offer thanks to the many parishioners who have made sacrifice of their time and resources to embrace the refugees in their time of need. This is all unfolding in the Year of Mercy, and you have responded to the call of our Holy Father, Pope Francis - indeed, to the call of the Gospel - to extend your hands and hearts in concrete acts of mercy to help alleviate the suffering that has been inflicted upon the people of the Middle East.

The refugee, as the word suggests, is one who seeks refuge in a new environment of safety. At one level this occurs as a move from one geographical territory to another. As a people of faith we recognize that the seeking of refuge must also unfold at another level — a deeper one — whereby we seek refuge not in a country but in a person. Our true refuge is God. We seek shelter in his embrace of mercy and compassion. We find a whole new source of hope in his promise to be with us in the power of his love. That love of God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and the Scripture readings that we have heard this evening describe for us the new life, the new hope, the new beginnings that come about when we turn to Jesus and take refuge in him.

The Gospel account recalls the encounter between St. Peter and Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee shortly after the death and resurrection of the Lord. This is the first time Peter meets Jesus after he had betrayed him. He would be understandably full of remorse, and anxious about the type of reception he would receive from Jesus. But Jesus asks him only one question: do you love me. This question is an invitation to Peter to flee from his imprisonment of guilt and take refuge in the Lord’s compassion. Peter finds himself forgiven and is set free to serve the Lord as head of the Church.

St. Paul, in the second reading, tells of his encounter with the love of Jesus. Paul had been a fierce persecutor of the Church. He met Jesus, as we know, in the land of Syria, on the road to Damascus, where Jesus asked why he was persecuting him. This was an invitation to Paul to flee from the hatred by which his heart was bound and hardened, and to seek refuge in the love of Christ. This encounter left Paul thoroughly changed, and empowered him to be the great Apostle to the Gentile world, beginning from Damascus.

The reading from Acts tells us of a great miracle of healing by St. Peter when he and St. John encountered a lame man at a gate of the Temple. The exercise of this kind of power by the apostles teaches that the saving grace present in the person of Jesus Christ is now active in and through his Church. Thus the summons to walk made by Peter to the lame man is a call to flee the paralysis that hobbled his life and to seek refuge in the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

It is this same invitation that we, the members of this local community of Christians, extend to you who have come to us from very far away. As you find refuge here in Canada, seek it also, and all the more, in Jesus Christ, present in his Church. Know with St. Peter the liberation of Christ’s mercy; find with St. Paul the new life and hope that only Christ can give; and, with the lame man, place your trust in Christ’s power, leave behind the paralysis of fear, and allow the Lord to strengthen you to walk, even to leap with joy, in the knowledge of his saving help.

✠ Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

St. Joseph’s Basilica
June 28, 2016