By Fr. David Shulist
There is something that comes from commitment and staying power. This summer this was proven to us when Romero House, the refugee community from Toronto, ON, founded in 1992 by Mary Jo Leddy, a well-known Canadian Catholic author and social advocate, returned to the ASC for its 20th annual camp.
During these ten days, the international world as a human community becomes small, and manageable. Therefore, the concept becomes believable, and so, less threatening for everyone present at ASC during that week. For some of the members of this multi-faith community, it is the first time for them to swim in a lake, hike over the forest laden land, and draw fresh fish from a lake, all of which characterizes “our” collective Canadian home. Summer was indeed hot and like their Angolan, or Mexican, or Columbian or Iranian heat, the sun does shine and warm their concerned “refugee” mind, bodies and spirits as equally as it did in their homeland which they fled. Summertime, for most of us, takes out the frigid edges and has us blend into nature with an ease of safety, peace & getting-along; it is a time, especially for the RH campers, when culture mingles with eco-diversity without harsh condemnation or threat; and the comforts of clean water unifies us at some primal level that we all belong to; and basic necessities are so evident to reassure that playing is as essential as eating. Moms and Dads, children—young and old, families no matter what colour merge into one community, having one good time; that was the camp.
I was moved after hearing what huge risks people took to seek asylum in Canada and to be finally at ASC. I could not look at my birthplace the same, nor anyone’s for that matter; a gift that offered security and freedom which I have taken for granted so often. The desire to want to give back was so evident among some of them. Former refugees made the trek to return and work on and at this camp not just to relive the great time, but more importantly, to ensure that this life-changing experience would be shared by others who had followed them.
The one evening the refugees honoured Mary Jo Leddy and Fr. Jack Costello, S.J. who is their chaplain (and also Director of Jesuit Refugee Service and President of Regis College, a Jesuit graduate theology college ), brought tears to my eyes. Both leaders, along with the volunteers and RH staff have worked hard to ensure this memorable event happens year after year, 20 now. I had never heard gratitude being expressed at such depth that night. It came from knowing that there was a thin line that separated union from separation, having from poverty, freedom from oppression, and life from death. As humans we can be family transcendent, and not have to share the same colour or even religion. That week at the Centre, I witnessed what trusting, generous and good people we really can be to each other. This is what happens when commitment, fueled by staying- power and the love of Christ turn so many things that come from our uncaring side upside down or make them obsolete. Someone’s vulnerability can truly bring out the best in us and we can give in ways which we never thought we could.
I walked back to my cabin that night of honouring. Full moon suspended a steady glow that reflected off the birch trunks that stood ceremoniously. I could not but think of how fortunate we are here to help bring about these transcending experiences of healing, growth and hope. Hospitality, that great act of inclusivity instigates new possibilities for those least expecting it, from the unborn, the stranger, the foreigner, the elderly, the disabled, from the weakest to the strongest with the hope that something good awaits us or a promise is made real. We are at our best when any of us can be hospitable, receiving and extending it to others. As Christ says, taking up a child into his arms, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mk 9:37). So commitment to the goodness of the Creator God gives us reason to stay and be considered first by others by being last of all and servant of all. (Mk 9:36) We are grateful to have served those who came this summer to celebrate, to heal, to rest and to renew their commitment to live and to choose life.
We have a memento from the RH community hanging up on our wall, reminding us that “We Rise”. I believe we at ASC are rising above the darkness of vulnerability and stay committed because together we believe in the divine hospitality of God. Thank you for joining us.