In Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the strong emphasis by the early Church on the importance of community. Members showed what belonging meant and how to care for others, especially the vulnerable among them. Today, both in Church and the wider community, we must equally advocate for that same spirit of belonging in creating healthy and safe communities. All of us desire to live in safe and friendly neighbourhoods where our children and grandchildren can live and play without any fear of being harmed. This is true whether we live in an urban or rural area.
Our cities, towns and communities have grown considerably over the years and there are many challenges facing them today. These challenges include issues such as mental health, addiction, family and societal violence, gender identity, disabilities, and racism. There must be a willingness to address these issues in a comprehensive manner.
One of the major challenges relates to the level of violence in the Greater Toronto Area; it is alarming and should be of concern to us all. It is very disturbing that at the time of writing this article, there were 74 reported homicides in the Toronto area for 2018. I am concerned that the frequency of violence in society can lead to an indifference on the part of many. We cannot and must not allow ourselves to become desensitized or feel hopeless in dealing with any form of violence.
Whenever a murder is committed, it means the lost of a life. It means that someone’s relative – father, husband, son, daughter, grandparent – a child of God – has been killed, and the community has been robbed of a member. The presumption that “gangs” alone are responsible for the violence in our communities is erroneous. Unfortunately, there is also the tragic loss of life at the hands of family members or others. The pointing of fingers or apportioning blame does not address the issue of gun violence and other acts of violence in our communities. Working together to find ways to quell and ultimately eradicate the violence would be beneficial.
This requires the cooperation of leadership in governments at all levels, service clubs, social organizations, religious communities, families directly affected by this violence, youth leadership and any others who can contribute to solutions to these concerns. Vigils, marches, and solidarity gatherings are important in supporting those affected by such tragedies. However, seeking meaningful solutions to violence in our communities is critical.
In a recent letter to Archbishop Johnson and the bishops, a retired cleric of our diocese shared some of his concerns about the violence plaguing our communities. He sighted that any response requires “joining together of community partners (including the Church) to address the serious issues of mental illness and lack of resources to help people. What should come out of this is a larger public discussion on the issue of isolation that starts early in children’s lives by bullying and stereotyping of the children who are ‘different’ in schools; the polite Canadian racism in overlooking the ‘different’ people for jobs, job promotion, housing; and the harassment of the ‘different’ young men by police for simply walking late on the streets or driving too expensive-looking cars.”
I share the cleric’s sentiments and believe that we must confront and address issues that negatively impact our communities. Like many who have made Canada our adopted home, I have witnessed significant differences and changes over the past 26 years. We are tempted to lament that Canada is not what it used to be 10, 20, 30 or more years ago. It is not. Nowhere is. Rather than lament, we need to face the realities of our times and take the action necessary to address the issues.
The cleric, like many of us, shares a view that the growing intolerance of new immigrants in some quarters should also be of great concern. The “us and them” mentality and, in some instances, the demonizing and stereotyping of particular ethnic or religious groups, must be rejected. I believe that the Church has a moral responsibility to call on its members, as well as society, to uphold the dignity of others, to affirm the equality of everyone and to respect those who differ from us.
In his response to the Danforth shooting, which was posted on our diocesan website, Archbishop Johnson stated, “Every act of violence, wherever it happens, is an abuse against the dignity of our common humanity and cannot be tolerated. The proliferation of guns, the blatant disregard for human life and the impulsive (and sometimes deliberate) resort to violent action and reaction are evils which we must address as a society. So, too, we must tackle together the underlying social issues of poverty, marginalization, mental health and hopelessness that afflict many in our city.”
I hope that we take to heart the Archbishop’s response and are willing to be contributors to the solutions needed. We pray for our communities, ourselves and the Church that we will commit to working even harder in our daily lives to treat each other with dignity and respect. I call on all of us to reclaim what the early Church modelled in being a community that cares for everyone, especially the vulnerable.