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Click here for Carol Goar’s Toronto Star report about this event

As part of World Interfaith Harmony Week, on January 17th, IDI GTA in partnership with the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims hosted Mary Jo Leddy at the downtown centre for a meal and a talk about Faith Groups and their response to Syrian refugees. She is an author, activist, and refugee advocate, well known as the director of the Romero House for Refugees.

Ms. Leddy began the talk with advice an Irish nun once gave her: You should squander money, because if you run out you can always rob a bank. If you squander your life, you will never get it back. The nun’s next advice was not to worry about the fundraising, because if you know what the money is for, you will find a way to get it. As such, Ms. Leddy went on to explain that one of the biggest impediments to act was not feeling ready, and she stressed that this was something that we should avoid. Just because we did not feel ready, did not mean that we would not be able to handle it.

She used the well known parable of the Good Samaritan (present in the three Abrahamic faiths) to explain this. Pointing out that we know nothing of what kind of person this man was—he could have been an onerous individual—but his decision to help the traveler, whether he was ready or not, made him a good person.

She cited the Latin American scholar, Jon Sobrino, who calls the parable of the Good Samaritan, the constitution of the church; to show mercy to our neighbours, no matter who they may be. By extension, she urged faith communities to look at their traditions and ancient texts which summon people to care for and show mercy to their neighbours, to refugees.

Who is my neighbour? she asks. In the story of the Good Samaritan, it is the neighbour that you choose to stand beside and help. It is the act of recognizing that we share the same space with them, whether it is a street, a country, or a world. We do not have to love each other, to help each other, Ms. Leddy said.

She addressed the religious figures in the parable, those who saw the traveler suffering but did not truly see. We may accuse them, and ourselves, of a moral weakness on their part for not seeing but, she thinks they were simply too busy, too focused on other problems, so they saw but did not see. In an average lifetime, a person in our culture of consumerism will take in three years of advertisement alone, reinforcing the idea that things are important, human lives are less so. Rarely, Ms. Leddy says, do we get the message that we will be happy if we help others.

When it came to helping out Syrian refugees, Canada finally saw. She stressed the need to see ‘refugee’ as only a period in someone’s life, not an identity. Ms. Leddy spoke of the enthusiasm of the faith communities in Toronto for helping out refugees, the relief of finding support from the federal government, and the many ways in which people have already shown themselves to be Good Samaritans.

Refugees need us to be good and generous, not perfect, she said.

For the full presentation, please see the video below.