Welcoming new Canadians always a meaningful experience

It’s something the vast majority of us in Canada take so very much for granted – our tremendously valuable Canadian citizenship. Years pass by and many don’t even think about it, and really consider what it means.

There are occasional reminders – those moments when you are watching the news and see a horrible conflict on the other side of the globe and say under your breath – “Thank goodness I live in Canada.”

And of course, just having celebrated Canada Day a few days ago, we get a bit caught up in a national but all too brief whirlwind of patriotism while sampling too many delicious foods at Bower Ponds and later on dreamily watching the fireworks light up the sky.

Other than that, are we really grateful to be living in this country of ours?

Last week, I saw 50 people take the oath of Canadian citizenship here in Red Deer at Festival Hall. There’s something really special about those moments when folks from all over the world receive Canadian citizenship and all the privileges, rights and freedoms that come with it. I was reminded how Canada is truly a wonderful country to live in.

Of course, even in a civilized, prosperous and caring society there are plenty of imperfections, but overall, it struck me once again how very blessed I was to have been born here.

The rights, freedoms and privileges that are brand new to many new citizens, like those who made that exciting step last week, have been mine all along. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I don’t think about that very much.

Another highlight of the ceremony was that once members of that group had been formally welcomed and congratulated by local dignitaries, they then walked through a small group of young local students who offered their happy congratulations as well.

It was good to see this connection between young Canadians and ‘brand new’ Canadians – an inspirational moment to both groups I would imagine.

The ceremony was also timely in the sense that it was so close to Canada Day. I wondered how these people would feel celebrating with the community on July 1 – their very first Canada Day as Canadian citizens. For those who have come from desperate circumstances, or who may have experienced hardships in other parts of the world, the meaning of that day must have been particularly poignant.

There have been a few events of late that have driven this ‘gratitude’ theme personally home that much further lately. Recently, an event was held in the City called Refugee in the City. Attracting more than 500 students and members of the public, the event was organized by the Central Alberta Refugee Effort, Catholic Social Services, the Canadian Red Cross and the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society.

The goal? Stimulate conversation and bolster awareness about the plight of refugees around the world. According to the UN Refugee Agency, every minute eight people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. Millions of people around the world could fit into the category of being refugees.

Questions like ‘will I be safe’, ‘what will I eat and how do I find water’, ‘can I get medical care and where will I live’ were at the centre of the many discussions. This year marked the third Refugee in the City event, and as I watched the citizenship ceremony I considered what a powerful moment it must be for anyone new to Canada who may have known hopeless times elsewhere in the past and wondered if they would ever know a brighter future.

Calling Canada home has been a given for most of us, and it’s a gift we should be thankful for every single day.

To a new immigrant, particularly if they are leaving behind a life of turmoil and struggle and constant challenge, it must be a nearly unimaginable blessing.