In his annual New Year’s Day address at Christ Church Cathedral, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, said the church must ensure that the interests and well-being of children, in Canada and around the world, are upheld.
Hiltz said he was struck by the number of times that it has been a little child who has “moved the heart of the world, the heart of the church, the heart of each and every one of us in some way or another.”
He recalled the “gut-wrenching moment” on September 3, when the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. “Still fully clothed, his lifeless body grabbed the heart of the world and jolted us to the immensity of the Syrian refugee crisis,” he said.
The photo of Alan Kurdi “sparked countless images of other innocent children who have suffered through the war in Syria,” said Hiltz.
As Syrian families sought refuge in Europe via unsafe and overcrowded boats, political leaders scrambled to meet the crisis, said the primate. Countries, including Canada, came forward to receive refugees, said Hiltz. “It is heartening to see how the federal government is working hard to honour its pledge to receive and settle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.”
And in that “massive sponsorship effort,” he added, the church is playing a significant role. “A number of our dioceses are Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders, and numerous parishes are receiving refugees and accompanying them faithfully as they settle in Canada.”
However Hiltz also noted, “as huge as the Syrian crisis is, it is in fact but one among many in which some 60 million of our brothers and sisters worldwide are refugees.”
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada, has been accompanying refugees in other places including Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, and South Sudan, he said. “Our work has been in providing food aid and medical supplies in partnership with Action by Churches Together (ACT).”
But even as the church helps refugees on the run, “we cannot forget the thousands and thousands who have spent most, if not all their lives, in United Nations Refugee Camps,” said Hiltz. ” Many of them are children and they know no life outside a camp. We just cannot forget them. Indeed, if anything, our commitment to accompany them must be enhanced and strengthened.”
“The tending of these holy innocents we do in the name of The Child who within weeks of his birth was a refugee in Egypt, and within weeks of his coming death was teaching us that in providing and clothing and medical aid to those in need – and in welcoming the stranger – we are tending him.”
In September, world leaders endorsed 17 Sustainable Development Goals under the overall theme “No one left behind.” Hiltz said these goals represent “immense hope for the children of the world and especially the most vulnerable.”
“Our commitment in working to achieve these goals are in keeping with the Gospel of the Holy Child, whose birth in a particular time and place in history has, as St. John and St. Paul would remind us, a cosmic dimension.”
Hiltz also said high-profile “Calls to Action,” particularly in the nation’s capital, should not be allowed to overshadow those related to the well-being of Indigenous children as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
“We cannot allow that to happen,” Hiltz said. “The children deserve our very best efforts and nothing less will do.”
The TRC, which released its final report on December 15, offered 94 calls to action on the part of governments, churches, public institutions and non-Indigenous Canadians as a path to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous citizens.
The recommendations were based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). “It is of some great significance, I think, that the first of these calls addresses child welfare,” Hiltz said. The first call to action includes an affirmation of the right of Aboriginal communities to set up and maintain their own child welfare agencies.
Hiltz noted that the TRC recommendations included many references to Aboriginal children, including concerns about their health, the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the pandemic suicide among teens, the high rates of incarcerations of young Aboriginal men and women and the tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
“There are also references to children in eliminating the gaps in federal funding for education between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and between those schools on and off reserves,” he said. “Knowing that physical activity is a fundamental element of health and well-being, increased funding for sports programs is also lifted up.”
The primate told the gathering he is heartened that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples is a priority for the government.
The church will respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action, said Hiltz, “in the name of the Christ who would take children in his arms and bless them, who would speak sternly of the punishment that would ensure if anyone lifted a hand to hurt them; in the name of the Christ who would go with distraught parents to lay his hands upon their little ones who were sick; in the name of the Christ who would place children in the midst of adults as an example of the way in which they ought to embrace life and the wonder of God’s ways with the world.”
Around the world, the primate noted that Canadian Anglicans are helping to promote the welfare of children through “All Mothers and Children Count, the Maternal Newborn and Child Healthcare initiative of PWRDF. The five-year program -funded through a $17.7 million agreement between PWRDF and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), now known as Global Affairs Canada – will focus on Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Hiltz also revealed that he and his wife, Lynne Samways Hiltz, are anticipating holding their first grandchild in a few weeks. “I wonder what kind of a world she will grow up in, and will we so live out our lives as to help her ‘have an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in the works of God’s hand'” (From the liturgy for Holy Baptism, Book of Alternative Services, p 160).
The primate also devoted a portion of his address to climate change. He noted that he and his principal secretary, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, were in Paris in December when world leaders – gathered for the United Nations Climate Change Conference – reached an agreement on slowing the pace of global warming through commitments to significant reductions in carbon emissions. “Some have criticized the agreement saying it is not binding,” Hiltz said. “Others see in this truth, the enormous amount of strong political will necessary to embrace and honour the agreement through specific actions on the part of government and industry across all the countries party to it.”
As global leaders met, Hiltz said he and Feheley joined thousands at an ecumenical service in Notre Dame. He noted, in particular, a message issued by the Council of Christian Churches in France, which said, “Aware of the impact of the lifestyle of the most developed countries, we need to call into question the logic of our consumption and to allow our attitudes and actions to experience conversion, practising restraint and simplicity, not as a form of heroic renunciation but as a form of joyful sharing? Our hope as Christians rests in our belief that our world is not destined to disappear but to be transformed and that human beings capable of self destruction are also able to unite and to choose that which is good.”
As “citizens of the world” Christians “were called to prayer, acknowledging that creation is suffering because of us,” said Hiltz. ” Acknowledging the poor who are suffering disproportionately, we asked for humility and strength in a call to conversion in our ways with the earth, our common home: its lands and resources; its waters and its atmosphere; and all its species of every kind. What is called for, as environmentalist David Suzuki has said, “[is] a massive shift of spirit” and what a young scholar from Kenya has described as a call to be “healers of the earth” for the sake of our children.”
At the end of his address, Hiltz led the congregation in reading together a letter to the children of the Anglican Communion, written a decade earlier by delegates to the Anglican Consultative Council (XIII) meeting in Nottingham, England.
Later, he and his wife joined Bishop John Chapman and his wife, Catherine Chapman, along with Cathedral Dean Shane Parker and his wife, Katherine Shadbolt Parker, in greeting guests at the New Year’s Day Levee in the new cathedral hall.