Source: Catholic Outlook, September 2016
Last month, the Church celebrated the 102nd Migrant and Refugee Sunday, which was made all the more special in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis, speaking on this occasion, acknowledges that refugees and people fleeing their homes challenge individuals and communities, and their traditional ways of life; at times they upset the cultural and social horizons which they encounter.
However, we need to see them as our brothers and sisters who, like us, are in search of justice, freedom, dignity and opportunity for development.
Affirming our Christian duty of care for them in the face of rising intolerance, the Pope writes: “Today, more than in the past, the Gospel of mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted, and points out a way of responding which, grounded in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, find practical expression in works of spiritual and corporal mercy.”
As Christians, our attitude towards those in need is formed by our own experience of God’s love and mercy. We can show them the love and mercy of God precisely because we ourselves are the recipients of the same love and mercy.
Our encounter and acceptance of others is intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!
Pope Francis admonishes us: “Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey.”
Many of us in Western Sydney are, in fact, beneficiaries of the Australia that dared to welcome the unwelcomed. As a former refugee, I remember with pride and gratitude the Australia that rose to the challenge in the wake of the boat people crisis in the 1970s and 80s. It accepted an unprecedented number of Asian refugees for the first time in its history.
Even though there have been challenges in their resettlement and integration, the Australia that embraced them exemplified the best of the Australian spirit.
It dared to afford the privilege of opportunity to the underprivileged and a fair go to the underdog. It lived up to its call and destiny as a civilised, free, diverse and richly blessed migrant nation.
Migrants and refugees are beneficiaries of Australia. But they, in turn, also enrich this nation. Australia is what it is today because of their love of freedom and fundamental human values. Australia is what it is today because of their determination and drive for a better future.
We honour the legacy of this great nation not by excessive protectionism, isolation and defence of our privilege at all costs. Rather, we make it greater by our concern and care for asylum seekers in the spirit of ‘a fair go’, compassion and solidarity that has marked the history of our country from its humble beginnings.
We stand united with one another, with men and women of goodwill in working for the coming of the Kingdom. We stand united with Pope Francis who has given us a strong leadership on the care of asylum seekers and refugees.
His words and gestures, in particular, inspire us to speak and act in favour of God’s poor for whose cause we will be judged. “As you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
These words of Jesus teach us to see the face of the Incarnate God in our asylum-seeking brothers and sisters. It is our duty, as Pope Francis says, to replace indifference with compassion, ignorance with respect and suspicion with love.
Our Catholic faith commits us to build a new society and a new world according to the kingdom vision of Jesus. With the men and women of goodwill, let us build a better Australia and a better world with the values of the Gospel.
May our endeavour to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fulfilment in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv