When a group of Catholic students at The University of Sydney were attacked recently for holding a peaceful information session on the current marriage debate, the unprovoked attack made headlines around Australia.
Catholic Outlook spoke to Francis Tamer, a 21-year-old Catholic student at that university, who can be seen in the footage remaining calm and stoic throughout the entire three-hour confrontation despite the violence, physical aggression and taunts that were directed at him and other Catholic students.
During the attack, the Catholic students had their shins kicked, food and glitter thrown at them, their property stolen and were under a verbal barrage of insults directed at them and their faith. The footage clearly shows some of the attackers saying “I wish I could kick you in the f***king face”, “Go f**k yourself”, “Go w**k yourself off at home with your f**king Jesus picture” and when the police arrived started chanting “pigs on campus”.
Francis, is also a spokesperson for the Sydney University Catholic Society, is currently completing a Bachelor of Computer Science at The University of Sydney and works part-time as a data analyst.
Francis has lived in the Diocese of Parramatta most of his life, attending St Dominic’s College, Penrith where he was school captain in 2013 and is a parishioner at St John the Beloved Maronite Catholic Church, Mt Druitt.
Catholic Outlook: Growing up, what influence did your family (especially parents) have on your faith?
Francis Tamer: From a very young age, a daily routine of prayer was instilled into us, as we would pray together as a family every night. My parents made a consistent effort to discuss the faith with us, not just telling us what we believe, but also explaining why. Their example of living out Catholicism in their day to day life, and how it was expressed in our family life, was a great example and witness growing up.
CO: What lessons about faith and religion did your parents share with you?
F: The lessons about faith and religion that my parents taught me was firstly that truth is eternal and unwavering, and that sharing the truth should always be done in a charitable manner. They also taught me that truth is uncompromisable. We were taught not to simply follow what was mainstream, but to question it first.
Truth is eternal and unwavering, and that sharing the truth should always be done in a charitable manner.
CO: Growing up, what influence did your parish/parish priest have on your faith?
F: My Maronite parish (St John the Beloved Maronite Catholic Church, Mt Druitt) had a strong emphasis on Maronite spirituality, where a strong sense of community encouraged continual spiritual growth and learning. I witnessed from the active community that idleness in the faith is not an option, with endless committees and volunteer involvement in all aspects of parish life. The zeal Maronites have for defending and living out their faith was contagious, and this passion for our heritage and religion was spread widely throughout this community growing up. This, of course, was paralleled to a strong support network at home and unwavering encouragement to fully immerse in the Maronite faith.
CO: The events of last week were shocking, in particular, the way you and other students were intimidated, threatened with violence and the attempts made to silence you. Was it surreal? Can you tell us more about how you felt at the time?
F: Yes, it was definitely a surreal experience. Looking back now, we wonder why or how we did things the way we did. But when we were there in the midst of the action, the only thing on our minds was that we were representing something much bigger than ourselves, and that it was our opportunity to prove to bystanders the kind of people we really are.
There’s no pretending that it was easy.
Naturally, there were times we felt intimidated and angry, but it’s not about how we felt. It’s about how we dealt with these reactions and how we composed ourselves. At the forefront of our minds was the early Christians, and Christians throughout this world, facing all kinds of persecution. This gave us the strength to stand our ground, but at the same time, not reacting violently or aggressively.
At the forefront of our minds was the early Christians, and Christians throughout this world, facing all kinds of persecution. This gave us the strength to stand our ground, but at the same time, not reacting violently or aggressively.
CO: How did you get involved in this campaign?
F: I worked closely with the executive and staff of the Sydney University Catholic Society in organising this event, the training of our members prior, and in providing posters and pamphlets, supplied by the Coalition for Marriage with whom I am affiliated with as part of this campaign.
My previous position as president of this society (2016 president) also led to my involvement and the leadership I undertook in facilitating this campaign.
I am also currently the campaign officer for the Maronite Eparchy.
CO: How long did the counter protesters harass you for?
F: For approximately three hours.
CO: What would you say to other Catholic university students who have perhaps been intimidated into silence about this and other issues on campus?
F: Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to those who stood with us during this event. Your witness and strength only builds our mission, drawing more people to the truth than we will ever know. I would tell other students on campus that many people are seeking the truth about this issue and many others, and that it is our responsibility and obligation to do our best to inform them. Despite the intimidation and harassment, this is only a vocal minority. This campaign has shown that a vast majority of people are open to discussion and listening, whether they agree with you or not. It’s taking that first step to sharing your beliefs that is the most vital.
I would tell other students on campus that many people are seeking the truth about this issue and many others, and that it is our responsibility and obligation to do our best to inform them.
CO: Do you plan on holding any other ‘discussion days’ on campus?
F: At the moment, we are yet to decide what we will be doing in the future. However, whatever we decide to do, we know we have the freedom to discuss these issues on campus and we will not be silenced.
CO: Do you have any Catholic thinkers, writers or theologians you like reading or following?
Personally, I like to follow the example of the saints. While I enjoy reading the work of other theologians and Catholic thinkers, nothing beats the saints in the pursuit of holiness and truth. One of my favourites is St Alphonsus Liguori C.Ss.R.
This campaign has shown that a vast majority of people are open to discussion and listening, whether they agree with you or not. It’s taking that first step to sharing your beliefs that is the most vital.
CO: Do you have any other final comments you would like to make?
F: I encourage everybody to become informed on the issue. Do not be afraid to speak the unwavering truth about marriage. As Catholics, we have a duty to defend marriage, as a secular institution, and to be willing to be persecuted for it. At the same time, we must approach this topic with full charity and respect, acting as true Catholics. We do not live by “an eye for an eye”, but are called to love every individual and lead them to the truth.