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Canada: A beacon of multiculturalism and welcome for the world

July 18, 2017
The staff of Salt + Light Media come from 14 different countries. This summer, for Canada's 150th anniversary, we are reflecting on what makes Canada so special to each of us? Here Julian Paparella, a returning intern, reflects on the uniqueness that comes with being Canadian.
A Reflection for Canada 150 
As a Canadian since birth, I had never considered the uniqueness of our Canadian perspective around the world. Welcoming people who come from far away, accepting people who are different from me, befriending people with different traditions, religion, and culture from my own – all of this seems totally normal from within the multicultural mosaic that is Canada. These are not only things to put up with, to grin and bear, but ideals to aim for, goals to strive after. They enrich us and are signs of the beauty and diversity of living together.
This past year I began studying in Europe. I soon realized what a totally different cultural landscape I had entered. I had presumed our Canadian approach to multiculturalism and diversity corresponded to universal ideals that were accepted around the world. It was unthinkable to me, for example, that people could feel that everything they hold most dear was threatened by the presence of immigrants and refugees. I had not conceived that welcoming a stranger could be seen as treason to one’s own culture and identity.
Though scandalized at first by certain attitudes I observed overseas, it has led me to appreciate more deeply the beauty and gift of the openness, mutual acceptance, and rich diversity that we often take for granted as Canadians. I have also come to see the coherence between this Canadian perspective and our Christian faith.
As Christians, we are called to welcome people from other countries. Deuteronomy reminds us: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:19). Jesus Himself identifies as the stranger in our midst: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). Do we allow geopolitics to overpower these words of our Lord? Can we allow our desire for self-preservation to take priority over living the Gospel?
We can never allow ourselves to forget that those who need our help are human beings like us. No matter what country a person is from, no matter their personal history: a person is a person. Each human person is worthy of our concern. We cannot remain indifferent to one another. The stranger becomes a neighbour when he or she knocks at our door. Indeed, he or she is already our neighbour before reaching our doorstep. We need not see the needs of others as a threat to ourselves. It is rather an opportunity to go out of ourselves and to do good. Going out of ourselves does not lead us to suicide – cultural, economic, or otherwise. It leads to serving one another.
Canada is certainly not perfect; it is far from an earthly utopia. But the cultural patchwork that makes up our nation is a gift to the world. Our appreciation of diversity and the value we place on multiculturalism are not present throughout the world. In many places around the world, diversity is feared and the influence of other cultures is viewed with suspicion. Differences are reasons to put up walls rather than building bridges. I am blessed to be a citizen of a country where this is not so. May the diversity that makes Canada unique enrich our country and our world for the next 150 years and beyond.
Julian Paparella is a theology student at the Institut Catholique de Paris in France. He has worked at Salt and Light during the summer months since 2012.
(Photo courtesy of Dean Bicknell/Postmedia News)
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