With courage let us all combine in conversation

By Elizabeth McFarlane
The Asylum Seeker Refugee Network aims to raise awareness of the global issue of the displacement of peoples. Photo: UNHCR.

On 3 May, the NSW Association of Pastors, Pastoral Associates and Parish Workers (NAPPA) held the ‘For Mercy’s Sake!’ conference to continue the conversation with those who have come across the seas.

Assisting in the coordination of the conference and heading the Asylum Seeker Refugee Network of the Diocese of Parramatta to respond to Pope Francis’ call on a local level, Sr Louise McKeogh, the diocesan Social Justice Coordinator, is looking towards local parishes to take up concrete actions to care for those seeking asylum in Western Sydney.

“We are aiming to build and foster a coordinated response,” Sr Louise said. “The Asylum Seeker Refugee Network was developed to support and empower parishes and schools in responding proactively, and to raise awareness of the global issue of the displacement of peoples.”

The network comprises Bishop Emeritus Kevin Manning and representatives from the diocesan Social Justice Office, CatholicCare Parramatta, Catholic Education Parramatta, Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, Jesuit Refugee Services, House of Welcome, St Vincent de Paul Society, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, Greystanes Social Justice Group, Blacktown Parish, and Kenthurst Parish.

The theme for Refugee Week, ‘With courage let us all combine’, taken from the second verse of our National Anthem, Advance Australia Fair, echoes Pope Francis’ call in this Jubilee Year of Mercy to unify with our brothers and sisters.

In the lead-up to Refugee Week (19-25 June), which coincides with World Refugee Day (20 June), the conference was an opportunity for representatives from the Diocese of Parramatta to welcome the stranger and was a reminder of the power of conversation.

Conversation sheds light on human issues. When conversation is facilitated in an intentional way and partnered with research into consequences and causes, with a faith lens as to the ideal situation for vision and direction, it develops smart and practical actions that remove notions of misty-eyed compassion.

Conversation brings people together and aids the formation of support networks. It gives power back to those who have had it stripped away.

But despite this support and regained power, there are risks in sharing a testimony, a paramount truth when a refugee or an asylum seeker explains the circumstances that brought them to Australia.

The sharing of a story can expose a refugee or an asylum seeker to further vulnerability. But despite the risks, there were some who spoke at the conference to highlight the reality of those who come seeking safety and refuge, be it by boat or other means.

Sr Margaret Sheppard RSM, who attended the conference and represents her congregation, the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, on the diocesan network, said she was impressed with the translatable action that could be taken up by communities across the Diocese.

“The energy, the storytelling, the activities and actions that could be taken up easily by every member of our communities, Catholic, interfaith and ecumenical, engaged so much that I am really wishing to tell the world,” she said.

These actions were of primary concern to Bishop Kevin Manning, as he detailed the importance of not forgetting the action after hearing the stories, statistics and “the post-resurrection statement that Jesus said after He had risen from the dead, that these are our brothers and sisters”.

“We need to do much more than just have meetings and talk about it,” Bishop Kevin said.

Keynote speaker at the conference, Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, acknowledged this point and noted the conference had been structured for members to reflect on “the kind of response that we want, and can make, to the current refugee crisis, to the crisis of the asylum seekers who have already come here, and to the call of Pope Francis for us as Church to live mercy, to reveal to the world the face of God whose name is mercy”.

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