As politicians swing into election mode the Catholic Bishops of Australia are encouraging people not to vote according to self-interest but with a view to the common good. In their pastoral letter they draw attention to a range of issues such as respect for life, marriage and the family, child protection, poverty, health and education. The needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and asylum seekers are highlighted. Watch the video here:
A March for Justice or Peace? I’m not sure exactly when the Palm Sunday Peace March in my city began to be rebranded as a rally for justice. This year the theme is justice for refugees. Asylum seekers and refugees are in desperate need of a more just and compassionate response from our government, so I want to participate to show my support. But to me this is not the same as a peace march. It is more than thirty years since my first Palm Sunday Peace March. No, my parents didn’t take me along as a baby. I was a teenager and went with Christian peace activists who I met at university. My parents were not amused. I remember more skipping, dancing and singing than actual marching. Fist-waving, shouting and banners against the nuclear policy known as Mutually Assured Destruction featured too. But not so much among the faith-based groups. You may say that my first Palm Sunday Peace March, and the many peace marches since, have changed… not very much at all. But they did change me. Slowly, and more deeply over time. Learning About Peace At first it was just exciting to be with many Christians of different kinds who also believed that the non-violent witness of Jesus continued to call us to act for peace in the world. I began to understand more deeply the need for faith to be active, public and communal, and not just personal and devotional. Over time I began to appreciate the complexity of the dynamic interrelationship between justice and peace within one’s own self, in relationships with others, and in relationships at different levels of social aggregation. I began to observe how anger against, and love for, are very different beasts. Anger tends to spread anger and love tends to spread love. I noticed that people – including me – aren’t always good at spotting the difference between righteous rage and self-righteousness in themselves! We are so much like the original Palm Sunday crowd who gave the simple, non-violent Jesus a hero’s welcome to Jerusalem – and a week later shouted ‘crucify him’. Marching on Palm Sunday Jesus did not win a political campaign for justice. The victory of the Prince of Peace was in being faithful to the end, refusing to give in to the temptation of violence, ending the reign of death and reconciling us with God. His was the victory of self-emptying love. When Christians march on Palm Sunday we know where the journey leads. The things that are worth dying – and living – for cannot be attained through killing or violence. Peace comes through right relationships among people, with God, and with the whole of creation. Justice for asylum seekers and refugees is one part of that. A peace march remembers the other parts too. The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced is one of justice, peace and joy in the Lord. People of all faiths and none will be at the rally for justice for refugees, and that is good. But for me, as a Christian, the point of marching on Palm Sunday will always be about peace. Sandie Cornish
World Day of Peace 2018 Message from Pope Francis Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Peace 2018 focuses on migrants’ and refugees’ search for peace. Hunger or persecution drive some while the possibility of a life in which they can pursue their full human development draws others. All are seeking peace. By contrast, Francis says that those who foment fear of migrants and refugees “are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia.” (n 3) His words certainly ring true here in Australia. Approaching the situation with a contemplative gaze, he sees not a threat, but rather an opportunity to build peace. People on the move remind us that we are one human family sharing a common home. Looking at our world in this manner, we see that migrants and refugees do not arrive “empty handed” (n 3). Rather they bring “their courage, skills, energy and aspirations” and the “treasures of their cultures” thus enriching “the lives of the nations that receive them” (n 3). Again, this is the Australian experience. Welcoming, Protecting & Including Migrants & Refugees Francis advocates a four-fold strategy of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees. We know that these are practical and positive strategies. After all, we have done each of them in different measures at different times in Australia. Our experience suggests one word of caution. In our public policy discourse, the word “integration” carries some strong negative connotations, especially for our First Peoples. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities the policy known as “integration” was little better than “assimilation lite.” They were the ones who were expected to integrate into and become part of another culture. Perhaps a better word for what Pope Francis is talking about would be “inclusion.” Being included is being recognised as part of the community, sharing rather than giving up, the treasures of one’s culture of origin. In this way we all become part of something new. Perhaps even a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), already here and not yet complete? Global Compacts In 2018 two Global Compacts will be negotiated. One will be about migration and the other will concern refugees. They are important because they will provide the framework for policies and programs. Pope Francis and the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development call all Catholics to get involved in this process. They want the Compacts to be “inspired by compassion, foresight and courage” and to advance peace-building (n 5). Hence they offer Twenty Pastoral Action Points which provide a focus for action. Many of the points directly engage current Australian policies and practices. Time for Action in 2018 Communities of faith, social service agencies and social justice groups in Australia are actively working for change. For some it is a longstanding commitment. They are providing practical assistance to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and advocating for changes in policy. Furthermore they are seeking to change the way the community understands the story of people seeking peace and security. While we may already be active, Pope Francis challenges each one of us to consider how we might be involved in 2018. Read the full text Migrants and refugees: Men and Women in Search of Peace
In a 13 October 2016 statement the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference calls on the Australian government to bring asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia. Conference President, Archbishop Hart, got behind the Bring Them Here campaign: We endorse the campaign to Bring Them Here to Australia. We pledge the help of our Catholic communities and institutions to welcome and support these refugees when they arrive, including Catholic health, education and social services. The Bishops point out that far fewer asylum seekers arrive directly in Australia than in other nations. They express shame at “the expulsion and harsh treatment of the people who sought our protection only to be detained on Nauru and Manus Island.” Furthermore they draw attention to the appalling conditions under which asylum seekers live, lamenting “the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect.” How to Help Bring Them Here The Bishops ask Catholics in Australia who want to help to contact the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum, which brings together Catholic peak bodies across education, health, welfare, and the broader church along with key national Catholic organisations. Read the Full Statement The full statement is available here.
Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, Fr Maurizio Pettena calls for immediate action on the allegations made in the leaked Nauru files. The Nauru files detail numerous alleged incidents of physical and sexual abuse of detainees at Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre. Fr Pettena expressed “grave concern that more than half of the allegations involve children, even though they make up %18 of those in detention.” He also expressed concern about “the manner in which these allegations have been handled, in particular the downgrading of severity in allegations.” Fr Pettena called on the Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton to take immediate action. He declared that “there has been a consistent decline in the mental and physical condition of refugees on Nauru.” Hence he demanded that “concrete action must be taken to improve conditions.” Meanwhile, community movements are calling for the asylum seekers to be brought to Australia. Speaking on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops, Fr Pettena made their position clear. He explains that it is not only the allegations made in the Nauru files that are of concern, but the whole policy regime. “The Catholic Church opposes mandatory detention and offshore detention because these policy responses do not respect the dignity of people seeking our help. It is imperative that the dignity of the human person must always come first. Governments have a responsibility to manage migration flows, but the Australian Government’s current approach is harsh and should change.” Read the Full Statement Read the full statement here.