Why Refugee Sunday?

Nadia Faida Ibocwa sorts seeds for planting and for sale at the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania.
Nadia Faida Ibocwa sorts seeds for planting and for sale at the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania.
 on May 30, 2024

Earlier this year, Archbishop Linda Nicholls issued an invitation to dioceses and parishes across the country to mark a Refugee Sunday at some point in the lead-up to World Refugee Day (June 20) or at some other time in the year. But in an already busy church calendar, why hold a Refugee Sunday?

In 2016, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) circulated a questionnaire to its members asking a series of questions about if and how faith has played a role in the work of its members. The responses were varied and powerful, among them:

  • “I think faith in a loving God supports a commitment to kindness and social responsibility. My personal response to the needs of refugees is a direct result of seeing news reports depicting tremendous brutality. I had to do something to counter that anger and violence.”
  • “Faith played a big role in our decision to sponsor a refugee family. Our church wanted to do something and not just say that ‘someone’ should do something with regards to the refugee situation that we are witnessing every day in the news.”

When the questionnaire was issued in 2016, the worldwide numbers of refugee and displaced people stood at 65 million. Today, that number stands at over 100 million. In other words, the number of “strangers” seeking safety, refuge and a place to call home has grown exponentially, and with it the need to “do something.”

Nadia Faida Ibocwa with her husband Usumani in their vegetable garden. PWRDF supports a food security program at the camp in partnership with Church World Service Africa. The refugees in the camp come largely from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At our baptism we, or our parents on our behalf, were asked a series of questions – “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” – to which we responded, “I will, with God’s help.” Those two questions, along with the others posed in the baptismal covenant, now find expression in the Five Marks of Mission of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Church of Canada, through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), has been responding to refugees and displaced persons ever since its founding in 1959. The following year was declared World Refugee Year by the United Nations, and PWRF (the “D” was added in 1969) earmarked $100,000 of the $162,000 raised in its first appeal for refugees overseas. In partnership with church-based and secular refugee-serving agencies, that work continues to this day.

In 1979, in response to the Indo-Chinese “boat people” crisis, the Canadian government established the Privately Sponsorship of Refugees program. Anglican dioceses were among the first to respond. Today, 15 dioceses across the country are Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Those SAHs are managed by a tireless, expert and gifted group of refugee coordinators, some paid and others volunteer. In the 45 years of the program, approximately 350,000 refugees have been sponsored to settle in Canada through faith-based, ethnic and secular SAHs – Canadians reaching out to their global neighbours and saying, “You are welcome here.”

These are ministries carried out not simply because of what we say we believe, but because of who we say we are. They are fundamental to our identity as Anglicans, and fundamental to the ways in which we live out our faith. But unless your parish has undertaken a refugee sponsorship, much of the ministry by PWRDF partners overseas and refugee coordinators here in Canada is done quietly and away from the view of Anglicans “in the pew.”

And so, Refugee Sunday is an opportunity to affirm what we believe and who we are. It’s an opportunity to learn about and lift up in prayer those who carry out these ministries, and to learn about and lift up in prayer all those who have been forced to flee their homes, either as internally displaced people in their countries of origin or as refugees in neighbouring or distant lands. It’s an opportunity to affirm the many gifts we receive when we welcome the stranger: gifts of friendship, of insights, of skills, knowledge and wisdom that refugees share with us. And it’s an opportunity for us, together, to be transformed. As another respondent to that 2016 questionnaire wrote,

“One of our core values is mutual transformation, the recognition that we are diverse and that through an effort to listen well, we learn and grow. Living closely with refugee claimants has enriched our community’s experience of faith.”

To which we can all say, Amen.


Information and worship resources to mark Refugee Sunday are available at


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