A few weekends ago, at the wedding of Declo and Consolate, I witnessed an example of an Australia of which I am proud to be a part. I first became friends with Declo when I worked for the Australian Young Christian Students (AYCS) in the Sandhurst Diocese (Victoria) in 2010. Their wedding was an evening of pure joy as my friend, a former Congolese Refugee who came to Australia 7 years ago, married a beautiful Congolese woman whom he met in a Refugee Camp many years earlier. Their journey to marriage was not an easy one and the strength, joy and hope with which they live is so inspiring. Whilst they are a beautiful couple, the thing of which I was most in awe was the way that the African community of Shepparton banded together with little resources to make this day something amazing for both of them.
One such Shepparton community member is Marita Taverner, who has spent the last ten years making her home and town the community of these new Australians. She has taught refugees to drive, helped them apply for jobs, taught various life skills and provided accommodation when needed. You name it and she has done it, and all from the goodness of her own heart. Marita has seen a need and responded as a member of her community and as a Catholic called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. In all that she does, she does so with love. Marita shows that we can make a difference to people’s lives in the places and communities in which we live and that, in our small actions, we demonstrate the people and nation that we want to be.
The Church has consistently advocated for a just and compassionate response towards refugees remembering the words of Jesus, “I was a stranger and they welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). Locally, members of Perth Young Christian Students are running campaigns to stop child detention and Vinnies groups are visiting the Yongah Detention Centre in Northam. Many are supporting the “Love Makes a Way” campaign, a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action.
A leader in the African community said in a speech at Declo and Consolate’s wedding, “We are no longer refugees, we are home now. Thank you for welcoming us.”
This community at Shepparton has responded with compassion to people who have left terrible circumstances, choosing instead to view these new Australians as people who have a place and a in a modern and multicultural Australia. They are an example of a town embodying the slogan “Real Aussies Say Welcome”. We have come a long way from the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, which formed the basis of the White Australia policy in seeking to exclude all non-Europeans from Australia. However, the current debates on asylum seekers are creating false narratives that demonise people legally seeking protection thus creating an unfounded fear of vulnerable people. Furthermore they are moving our national consciousness away from a global perspective and still further from a vision of opportunity and compassion.
In this context, there is a significant need for our communities to be voices of hope, similarly to what I experienced in Shepparton. Based on our Christian call to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbour, I believe our Church has a responsibility to be at the forefront of this movement to create positive and constructive dialogue regarding refugees and asylum seekers. This is just what the Australian Catholic Bishops will be doing this Social Justice Sunday (27th of September) when they release the 2015/2016 Social Justice Statement “For Those Who Come Across the Seas: Justice for refugees and asylum seekers.”
In this Statement, the Bishops address the divisive national debate over asylum seekers, especially those who arrive by boat. It reminds all Australians of the need to welcome and comfort those who have fled here from terror and danger, and to live out the example of Jesus. The ACSJC website (www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au/publications/social-justice-statements) will have resources and the Statement available for download free of charge before Social Justice Sunday.
It is in relationships that we are transformed, in learning the stories of others that we break down false barriers and in sharing life together that we come to see our common humanity and dreams. I have witnessed two people coming together, dreaming of a future filled with hope and love and doing so surrounded by a community that will walk along this journey with them. I hope all refugees and asylum seekers are able to experience this type of welcome. I must also mention that the wedding was a blast! A Eucharist of unity and faith and an evening of song, dance and pure joy, which came from a place of gratefulness, faith and hope. A dose of which our nation could really use at this time.
Those interested in finding out how to get involved and even what the Church teaches in this area can visit the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office www.acmro.catholic.org.au.
Written by Vicky Burrows
– See more at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://cym.com.au/we-are-no-longer-refugees-we-are-home-now-thank-you-for-welcoming-us/#sthash.codSqQ7l.dpuf