“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share...” – Australian National Anthem

This week, the Catholic Church in Australia celebrates Migrant & Refugee Week.  While the Church has done so for almost 100 years, the timing of this year’s celebrations appears especially providential.

The issue of refugees has been in the forefront of the news in recent weeks because of the announcement of the PNG “solution” and the impending federal election.  Given this political and social environment, Migrant & Refugee Week provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the teachings of the Church in relation to this very important issue.

Desperate people will seek to leave their countries until war, persecution and poverty are eradicated across the globe.  Many will die along the way, particularly if they have placed their lives in the hands of people smugglers.  This is a tragedy.  And Australia needs effective policies in place to minimise the loss of life in people who are risking their lives in order to escape death.

But any policy must “be inspired by the centrality of human dignity and the obligation to care for our brothers and sisters who, in their desperation, ask for our welcome and assistance”[i].  The fundamental consideration in these situations is human dignity, affirming the image and likeness of God in each person, irrespective of age, ethnic background, religion, or means of entering the country.   

We may have differing ideas on how best to do this, but we cannot be indifferent. 

Bishop Gerard Hanna, Delegate for Migrants and Refugees in the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life, reminds us that the plight of asylum seekers should “challenge the comfort of those who take freedom, work, education, peace, security and other fundamental goods for granted and do not need to hope for such basic rights in life”[ii]

In other words, Bishop Hanna is saying that the plight of the asylum seekers should challenge us.

Bishop Hanna tells us that we can have different ideas, but we must not be indifferent.

Pope Francis recently called all of us out of what he called the “globalisation of indifference” when it comes to refugees, and instead to stand with them in solidarity.  His words should resonate deeply with all Australians, particularly when it seems we are constantly hearing of boats sinking en route to our country:

Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it? Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – "suffering with" others: the globalisation of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep![iii]

Pope Francis is telling us that we must not be indifferent.

The Holy Family of Nazareth were themselves asylum seekers, and the mandate to welcome the stranger is as old as the Church itself (Matthew 25:35).

Jesus is commanding us to not be indifferent.

But how do we do this?  Where the only solution to the problems faced seems to be a worldwide end to conflict and poverty, how can we be anything but indifferent?

In reviewing the resources put out by the Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office in the lead up to Migrant & Refugee Week, I think our actions fall in to two categories – demanding more of our elected officials, and more of ourselves.

We demand more of our elected officials by:

-       Assessing any policies presented on how well (or poorly) they affirm human dignity and accord with our obligation to welcome the stranger; and

-       by reaching out to those every level of government and holding them to account for their “obligation to protect” and ensuring that “the fundamental right to seek asylum can never be denied to people in fear of their lives”[iv].

We demand more of ourselves by:

-       shifting our discussion “on migrants and refugees away from debate about perceived economic liabilities and national security to points which focus on the ethical dimension… the good of the person and one’s inalienable rights”iv;

-       being informed of the truth around these issues and initiating “programs of awareness aimed at making the causes of migration known” iv; and

-       offering more than charitable services alone[v], but true welcome and integration of “those who’ve come across the seas”[vi].  This may mean we need to honestly and critically examine “our relationship with the other, with the stranger, with the one who comes from a place I don’t know and from a culture I am not familiar with” iv, and do that often.

Migration and settlement of refugees is a large and complex issue.  But as Catholics, we are not permitted to use this as an excuse to not be involved. 

We must not be indifferent. 

Monica Doumit (Catholic Talk - Contributor)

[i] Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.  Media Release: The Human Dignity of Asylum Seekers comes before National Interests.  22 July 2013.  Available from: http://www.acmro.catholic.org.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=357&Itemid=2

[ii] Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.  Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith & Hope.  August 2013.  Available from: http://www.acmro.catholic.org.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=354

[iv] Message of Bishop Gerard Hanna.  Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.  Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith & Hope.  August 2013.  Available from: http://www.acmro.catholic.org.au/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=354

[v] Message of Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2013.  Available from: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/migration/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20121012_world-migrants-day_en.html

[vi] Australian National Anthem

Thursday, 22 August 2013 22:14 Written by 
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.