Volume 31 Issue 12 - 23 August 2019

“It is not just about migrants”

The 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated on Sunday 25 August 2019. This takes place during Migrant and Refugee Week, marked by the Catholic Church in Australia from 19 - 25 August. In his message for this event, Pope Francis stated that “Our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.” As Catholics living in Australia it is most important that we truly reflect on the words of Pope Francis and challenge ourselves to follow our Christian values.

Australia has a tough offshore detention policy for those asylum seekers who arrive by boat. It was reintroduced over six years ago under the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd. There are approximately 800 refugees and asylum seekers remaining on Manus Island and Nauru. According to the chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Social Justice: Service and Mission Bishop Vincent Long, Pope Francis is deeply concerned about this refugee crisis. Bishop Long stated earlier this year when he and other Catholic leaders rallied for change, “12 young men have died over these past six years and many more have attempted self-harm out of utter despair”. He also pointed out that international agencies have been appalled by the conditions in which these people live. The four verbs summed up by Pope Francis have no presence in our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. More accurate verbs would be to shun, neglect, downgrade, separate. This is a disturbing truth and if we call ourselves Catholic, it is something that we should strive to change.

In Pope Francis’ message, he stresses repeatedly that our call to respond to the presence of migrants and refugees is not just about them, but rather “an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society”. He insists that,

 “It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears…

It is not just about migrants: it is about charity…

It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity…

It is not just about migrants: it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded…

It is not just about migrants: it is about putting the last in first place…

It is not just about migrants: it is about the whole person, about all people.”

At St Patrick’s we have a tradition of welcoming migrants and supporting the plight of refugees and asylum seekers on several occasions through our Social Justice Committee. An instance worth remembering from 2015 is the protest held in support and solidarity with asylum seekers in detention after attending the workshop “Help Break the Fence”. Biannually we also host a Migrant Welcome Dinner for local migrant families. This occurs in late spring (November) at which there is a gathering of relatively newly arrived migrants to the Macarthur area. The Middle-Eastern meal commences with a welcome and prayer of blessing and thanks for the food and the gathering. The community leader offers words of welcome in Arabic. During the dinner, there is also a musical item from one of our students as entertainment. The children who attend the meal are given a "show bag" and after dinner, there is a game of basketball and/or soccer played. It has been a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, share our hospitality and reassure our local migrants that they are welcome in our community.

We are a diverse community, and most of our families in some way or another have been migrants to Australia. Pope Francis’ message for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees is a timely reminder of how we are called to live as Catholics welcoming our brothers and sisters.