Toronto: Trying to begin a new life in a new country can be a lonely experience for immigrants.
Different religious denominations have always tried to welcome new members from other countries. In the past, immigrants who had declared their religious affiliation were noted by each denominational port chaplain as they arrived by ship and each church worked to look after "its own members."
Now, much of this has changed. About 70 per cent of all immigrants now travel to Canada by air.
Also, last year, the Canadian government eliminated the question of religion from immigration forms, presenting the churches with a problem of contacting immigrants. Yet, it cleared the way for a new and better system that is now developing.
A new inter-faith immigration office has been opened in Toronto following months of negotiation with government and community organizations. The 18-member churches of the national inter-faith council elected an executive composed of Anglican, United Church, Roman Catholic and Jewish members because these four have been the most involved in immigration work in the past.
The Toronto office, a significant development in the ecumenical field, is the co-ordinating centre for information and inquiry concerning immigrants who enter Canada. It distributes immigration lists to six regional locations: Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The names of newcomers are compiled two ways. Cards, with declared religious affiliation can be filled out by immigrants before leaving their country. This information is provided to the sister denomination in Canada. Lists are also made at the port of entry, giving the immigrants' names and destinations in Canada.
Each region is informed of the newly-arrived persons which has the responsibility for the follow-up visitation program. This places the emphasis on community involvement.
In metropolitan Toronto, where 25 per cent of all immigrants who come to Canada to settle, the project of sending teams of visitors out to welcome immigrants is expected to be in full swing within two months. An inter-faith committee is now dividing the city into areas, each with its own set of visitors.
The implications of the new inter-faith plan are far-reaching. It is the first time that co-operation on a project with a government department has been so extensive from the national to local level.
Volunteers will be visiting families who will not likely belong to their denomination. It will be a desire to serve someone who is a "stranger," rather than an attempt to win members to a particular church.
The Toronto national office is expected to be the forerunner of similar permanently-located regional offices across Canada. When this happens, the churches of Canada will be organized on a co-operative basis to offer to every newcomer to Canada the help he feels he needs in the first months of difficult adjustment.
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Joint News Release. Press and Information Services: The Anglican Church of Canada and The United Church of Canada