I was at the corner of Georgia and Granville in downtown Vancouver this week witnessing a protest and leafleting gathering while crowds of serious shoppers swarmed by. About 30 people of various nationalities and religions had gathered to give voice to their concerns about the treatment of refugees under Canada’s current refugee claims processing procedures. Listening to the stories of two mothers was particularly poignant. The event reminded me of the work of Mary Jo Leddy and the Romero community in Toronto who provide shelter and assistance to refugees to Canada. Her book ‘At the Border Called Hope’ (1998) is a superb expose of the difficulties that many refugees face in immigrating to Canada. Not only does she describe the awful conditions, which some refugees are fleeing, but also the challenges many have to face as they seek to negotiate our often inept, biased, and closed refugee-processing system. The tenacity of refugees shines throughout her narrative.
Later in the week it was announced in the local media that there had been a marked reduction in homelessness in the last several years in Vancouver. This was due to the collective actions of multiple stakeholders spearheaded by the current mayor of Vancouver since the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was heartening to hear that while homelessness continues to be a persistent blight in Canada, and indeed in many countries, there had been some progress at least in Vancouver. More however needs to be done. In this regard I think that the private member’s bill currently before the House (Bill C-400 The Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act), which calls for the Canadian Federal Government to assume a leadership role in the creation of a national housing strategy to address homelessness and affordable housing issues, would be a formidable step in the right direction.
These two issues, fairness for refugees and housing the homeless, are just two of the many social issues facing Canadians. I know that there are many, many concerned Canadian citizens, at all levels and in differing ways, who are seeking to make inroads on our social problems. For example, I recall the work of the Multifaith Housing Initiative in Ottawa, which is an organization of concerned citizens from various religions who work together to provide affordable housing in Ottawa. Such work is holy work. It is the work of right citizenship and of an engaged spirituality.
But it is not always easy. In particular, progress on social issues can seem painfully slow, particularly when human lives are at stake. In the midst of the slowness of response, the intractability of bureaucracy, and the frequent disconnect between social policy and human need, it is easy to be tempted to give up. The temptation to give up and even to partake of social despair is one that is real and not to be taken lightly. It is during these times that I have found it most helpful to talk with kindred spirits or trusted elders and to simply ‘be’ with others in community.
At the deepest level, when I face discouragement and am tempted to despair, I find it necessary to pray. When I pray about a social problem or ill I know that my prayer will not necessarily change the situation outright, although I do believe a well-placed prayer can nudge the hearts of people towards right actions. Mostly, I pray for the ability to live engaged in this world of ours with an attitude of hope. And I seek consolation in Christ the Light. He knew what temptation was all about but did not give into temptation even in his darkest hours. He listened to temptation but did not yield. In this I find hope.