Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv has praised the contribution of waves of refugees and migrants to Australia during a seminar in Brisbane marking the start of a three-day national conference on missionary clergy and religious.
“Migrants and refugees always bring energy and dynamism to a new country,” Bishop Long said, speaking Monday night at the ninth Bishop Joe Grech Memorial Colloquium on Ethics and Migration.
“We are what we are and who we are today – a dynamic, young prosperous country – because of the love of freedom and the love of fundamental human values on the part of our new Australians.”
Bishop Long, the Australian Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees, spoke with heart, humour and a political edge about arriving in Australia as a Vietnamese refugee boat person.
“We, the Vietnamese boat people, have been generously accepted to this country, and haven’t done too badly since,” he explained.
“Most of us are well settled and doing our bit for the country. We have practically cornered the bakeries, the hair salons, the manicure and the waxing businesses.
“We are making our presence felt even in the Australian Church too. We are the new Irish.
“Despite the ‘final solution’ that the former senator Fraser Anning proposed in Parliament last year, we are here to stay.”
Bishop Long was referring to comments made by the former Queensland senator during a racially inflammatory first Senate speech. Former senator Anning invoked the White Australia policy and use of the term “final solution”.
“Where would we be without the vibrant faith and strong community spirit of migrants and refugees,” Bishop Long said.
“So we honour the legacy of this great country not by excessive protectionism, isolation and defence about entitlement, rather we make it great by our concern and care for asylum-seekers and refugees and migrants in the spirit of compassion and solidarity which has marked the history of this nation.
“Multicultural Australia is here to stay.”
Also speaking at the Bishop Joe Grech Memorial Colloquium was Fr Fabio Baggio, a missionary priest of the Scalabrinian Congregation and now the Rome-based under-secretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.
“It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears,” Fr Baggio said, quoting Pope Francis.
“The fears we feel in the face of today’s migratory challenges are real. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of ‘the other’, the unknown, the marginalised, the foreigner.
“Often, we refuse to encounter the other and we raise barriers to defend ourselves. Refusing to encounter others is not human. Rather, we are called to overcome our fear and open ourselves up to encounter.”
The sixth national conference on missionary clergy and religious in Australia runs in Brisbane runs until August 7 and is open to the public – in particular priests, religious men and women, and all those who work with missionary clergy and religious who have come to minister in Australia from overseas.
Delegates will gain an insight into the issues missionary priests and religious face when ministering in Australia, including the different cultural expressions of the people they serve and the achievements and difficulties they face in their pastoral work.