Good news for refugees

There's not been much good news when it comes to refugees fleeing the violence of the Middle East, especially in the realm of American politics and what passes these days for policy debate.

But just look north to find good news — to Canada, where about 600 refugees from camps in Lebanon and Jordan began to arrive for resettlement Dec. 10.

And rather than hatred and vitriol, they were met with the open arms Canadians have become known for.

In fact, the Toronto Star gave them a front-page welcome, saying, "You're with family now. And your presence among us makes our Christmas season of peace and joy just that much brighter."

Compared to the 31 state governors in the United States who decided the Christmas season was the perfect time to turn away homeless families, the Canadian welcome — the group of 600 refugees is just the first of 25,000 Canada is taking in — seems much warmer than the climate would suggest.

"By the way, don't be fooled by the gentle weather," the Star editorial said. "You'll need those parkas, mittens and boots before very long. And the kids will need skis, snowboards, ice skates and toboggans, too. We don't endure winter. We throw ourselves into it."

And don't think the Star is alone in its words. The Canadian people are putting those words into action, NPR reports:

Most of [the refugees] are being sponsored by private groups and citizens. . . . The sponsors must commit to being responsible for the refugee for one year. It requires providing financial help during that time — about $24,000 US — and help finding housing, employment and schools for children. The Canadian government will provide health care, travel expenses and language classes.

How warm was the welcome? Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself greeted refugees at the airport Thursday night [Dec. 10].

The Canadian response is so opposite, so diametrically opposed to some of the rhetoric used in the United States that it's hard to believe anyone could take the hatred seen here seriously: The Star's editorial makes us seem like a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum upon hearing he'll have to share his parents with a new baby sister. Our more mature neighbors, meanwhile, are reacting with appropriate warmth and even joy.

"Canadians have been watching your country being torn apart, and know that you've been through a terrifying, heartbreaking nightmare. But that is behind you now. And we're eager to help you get a fresh start," the Star said. "Welcome home."

The mission field next door

There will be a different kind of migration on the Korean peninsula, La Stampa reports: Starting next year, South Korean priests will be able to go to North Korea to celebrate Mass on key holy days thanks to the work of a delegation of four bishops and 13 priests early this month.

Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul, said efforts to bridge the divide have been ongoing since 2000. More indirect efforts have been going on for 20 years — Soo-jung said the archdiocese has been giving humanitarian aid to the north since 1995.

"The Catholic church of Korea locates in the region where reconciliation and unification is needed the most," Soo-jung told La Stampa. "We place the emphasis on reconciliation and reunification because 'division' is the reality and the main reason of all social problems in Korea."

Sisters to storm Sicily

More good news on the refugee front is coming in the form of 10 women religious. Today, Dec. 14, 10 sisters from different congregations in eight countries will leave Rome where they've been training and head for Sicily, where they'll work with local dioceses and sisters through the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) to provide for the spiritual needs of the refugees in camps there.

Rather than providing humanitarian aid, they'll minister to spiritual needs and help build bridges between the refugees and the Sicilian population.

The sisters were to be sent off over the weekend with a Mass presided by Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The Mass and the sending also celebrate the 50th anniversary of UISG, which is made up of 1,857 general superiors from around the world.

Killing the death penalty

For some time, people involved in the fight against the death penalty have been saying the end of capital punishment in the United States seems to be near. But it was hard for many to see, especially with constant stories about new executions.

But St. Joseph Sr. Helen Prejean — who shot to national prominence when her 1993 book, Dead Man Walking, was made into a movie in 1996 starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn — says we seem to have reached a tipping point.

She writes in this month's Ministry Against the Death Penalty newsletter:

The statistics make it seem like most of the nation participates in executions, with 31 of the states still having capital punishment on the books. But those statistics mask the fact that only a handful of states perform all the executions. Four states have a moratorium; in 17 states executions are on hold because of botched executions or problems obtaining drugs; and of the 31 states where executions are legal, only six states performed executions this year.

Prejean says there are many reasons for the decline, including botched executions and high-profile exonerations, as well as more demands for guarantees that justice is dealt fairly and honestly.

"Prosecutors are shying away from the death penalty partly because of the expense but also because there has been heightened scrutiny of how they conduct capital prosecutions," she wrote.

So while the death penalty may technically be legal in 31 states, the number of places it is actually used continues to dwindle, and the number of executions taking place in those places continues to fall, as well.

"In many states where executions are nominally legal, the machinery is downright rusty from lack of use," she wrote. "We are going to end this thing!"

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]