This reflection was delivered by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, during the Refugee Week prayer service hosted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conferences’ Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace and the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office on Monday 20 June. Bishop Vincent was speaking in his capacity as the Bishops Delegate for Migrants and Refugees.
We have witnessed one of the most interesting elections in years, if not decades. For me, it is not simply the fact that Australians voted for a change of government. It is also evidence of a strong desire to build a new future for the country which is based on community participation and the common good.
The pandemic made many of us realise that there was something fundamentally flawed with a system that neglects the care economy. It cannot be business as usual in terms of the big picture issues like diversity, equity, justice and sustainability. There is a sense in which we have arrived at a threshold moment which demands our courage to move into a new way of being together with one another and with the planet.
We gather tonight as people of faith and commitment to shape the future of this country in accordance with the kingdom vision of Jesus. Inspired by the Gospel, we join our fellow citizens in working towards a just and equitable society, one that is characterised by respect for its first nations peoples and fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
It’s in our DNA as Christians to reach out to fellow human beings in need. It’s in our DNA to treat the stranger with dignity and hospitality. The Bible and particularly the example of Jesus is neither silent nor unclear on how we are to welcome the marginalised and the stranger. It’s part of who we are. It’s the texture of Christianity.
Pope Francis in his message marking Migrants and Refugees Sunday makes a passionate appeal for solidarity with those who are forced to flee like Jesus. Against the tide of anti-refugee sentiments across the world, particularly during the pandemic, the Holy Father says that it is not a time of forgetfulness. Rather, he continues, “it is a time to recognise Jesus in those faces, we will be the ones to thank him for having been able to meet, love and serve him in them.”
We are challenged to be an alternative community of mercy, inclusion and human solidarity. Instead of the label of “queue jumpers”, we can help the world see people seeking asylum as our fellow travellers who like us are in search of justice, freedom, dignity and opportunity.
Each of us can become critical yeast for a critical time by virtue of our commitment, dedication and shared leadership. In this way, we can create a movement and a coalition of concerned citizens that challenges the inaction of the political class from above or the apathy and compassion fatigue from below.
As Martin Luther King Jr reminded us that the arc of justice is long but it tends inescapably to justice. We must not give in to the myth of the futility of our resistance. The Biloela family is proof that love does win over cruelty in the long run.
The example of the early Christian community spurs us on. For they understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they welcomed outsiders and shared resources with the disadvantaged. It was a community that supported and cared for the most vulnerable. It was a community of unity in diversity, radical equality and inclusion where old boundaries were transcended. They showed to the world that it was possible to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion.
The Church today must honour this founding memory by its radical outreach and witness. We are inspired to be a kinder, more inclusive, more caring alternative society under God’s rule. The kingdom vision of Jesus guides us as we endeavour to be a community that serves as an antidote to the politics of fear and the culture of self-protection and exclusion in our society.
I am particularly encouraged by many Catholics young and young at heart who have a heightened consciousness of social justice and solidarity with the marginalised. I am confident that you will work together and turn the tide in favour of justice and compassion. Let us reclaim the welcoming and generous spirit that has shaped this nation. In the words of Pope Francis, let us endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance
With the men and women of goodwill, let us build a better Australia and a better world. May our endeavour be brought to fulfilment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.
You can re-watch the prayer service on the Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace Facebook page.