At the end of August, the Church in Australia celebrated the Annual Migrant and Refugee Sunday. Pope Francis’ message to the Universal Church for that day this year, was entitled “Church Without Frontiers, Mother to All” – meaning to spread throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable.
The Pope went on to say:
“Today, this takes on a particular significance. In fact, in an age of such vast movements of migration, large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions. Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in church communities, prior to people knowing anything of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need. Jesus said, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.” (Mt 25:36)
But today, on our annual Social Justice Sunday, the Australian Catholic Bishops have issued a similar statement called “For Those Who Have Come Across the Seas” which calls for justice for refugees and asylum seekers. It is named from the second verse of our National Anthem: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share; with courage let us all combine to Advance Australia Fair.”
Our Bishops’ Statement points out that our Nation’s response to asylum seekers and refugees has been marked by vitriolic political debate at every federal election since 2001, despite our country benefiting greatly through the contribution of generations of immigrants; so many of whom were refugees and asylum seekers after World War II and after the Vietnam War. Migration by refugees has brought wonderful diversity to our culture; migrants and refugees have lent their skills and their hard work to the labour market and added youth and vitality to our nation.
Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan said, “If every country did what Australia is doing, no refugee would be able to flee from persecution and the 60 year old International Refugee Convention, would be a dead letter!”
You may have seen the Pope addressing the joint session of the US Congress only last Thursday – Pope Francis said, “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. People in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones … we must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather see them as persons, looking at their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way that is always humane, just and fraternal.”
Our 2015 Social Justice Statement is about people coming to us seeking refuge: can we really, in conscience, respond to them with cruel and self-defeating policies, such as offshore processing and indefinite detention? How do we forge a humane response to the challenge of refugees and people seeking asylum?
In the Gospel we hear the disciples complaining to Jesus because they say someone is casting out devils in His name? The reason they are upset is because “he is not one of us, casting out these devils and demons.” So they try to stop him! Jesus says, “You must not stop him, no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us, is for us.” (Mk 9:38-39)
A similar scene is in the first reading, where Moses wishes everyone would prophesy, not just the chosen few. (Num 11:27-29)
In a sense, the Apostles are defending what they think is their territory. Jesus reminds them, and us, that his ministry is not about power or territory or glory, it’s about bringing healing and life to people everywhere. The disciples were about excluding – Jesus is about including!
We don’t welcome the refugee or the person seeking asylum simply because they are deserving of charity or compassion, we ought do it because they are human beings, equal to you and me in dignity. As people of faith, we try to see the face of Jesus Christ in the refugee. Women and children are particularly at risk and even more vulnerable in war zones and where civil society breaks down.
Has a one-eyed focus on the interception of boats and deterrence of asylum seekers, closed our nation’s mind and heart to the true horrible picture of the asylum seekers’ journey, as we shift the problem to places like Nauru, Manus Island and at great financial cost? In fact, desperate people have not stopped embarking upon journeys that expose them to deadly risks and unscrupulous people smugglers.
Pope Francis talks about the globalisation of indifference, indifference going global – nobody anywhere is interested, it’s not important; who cares?
It is an indifference to the reasons behind people’s flight from civil war and persecution; indifference to the human dignity of every person; and indifference to our once proud tradition of protecting and supporting victims of war and violence. As the Pope said in Washington; “See them as persons, look at their faces, and listen to their stories as we try to respond as best we can to their situation.”
Our bishops are broadening our outlooks by contributing a Gospel perspective to a very difficult humanitarian issue.
I will finish with some suggestions from our Bishops’ Statement:
- Try and understand the issues better yourself by reading the Bishops’ Statement; so that in quiet conversations you can help others have a change of heart on this issue.
- We can also support the organisations that work to help asylum seekers such as St Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Social Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Asylum Seeker Centres etc.
- Make our parishes welcoming places, introducing refugees to your family and friends outside the Church after Mass, joining support networks, listening to the stories of refugees, trying to recognise the humanity of people who have come in need of protection.
- Our politicians need to know what we feel about this issue by letter or email or in conversation. This does have an effect and can give encouragement to Members of Parliament who also seek a better way of dealing with this difficult issue.
- The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, of the Bishops’ Conference in Canberra, is a valuable source of advocacy and information for parishes and schools. www.acmro.catholic.org.au
- Our Diocese has a Social Justice Committee that links in with the Bishops’ Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au
As we prayed in today’s Collect:
Lord, to whom no one is a stranger, and no one is ever distant from your help, we pray you to look upon refugees and exiles, on segregated persons and on lost children: restore them, we pray, to a homeland, and give us a kind heart for the needy and for strangers. Amen
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 August 2015