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World Day of Migrants and Refugees PDF Print E-mail

25 August 2013: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

From East and West they will come to take their place in the kingdom of God.

Lord, will only a few be saved? The early Christians saw the Jews as the chosen people, because they had the law and the prophets and were looking for the Messiah. Jesus broke all their expectations, so they rejected him and his followers. Within a generation after Jesus' death the Jews persecuted the Christians and expelled them from the synagogues. Christians took comfort in saying that the Jews began as favorites but missed a step.

Friends, this way of thinking had a strong effect on the Church because at different times we have been hostile to other religions, other denominations and the secular world. I remember as a teenager hearing Catholic adults making distinctions in a pluralistic India. Is she Catholic? If not get her baptised. How narrow we were. Do we in fact include people from east and west, from north and south?

Fr Steve Curtin SJ in his recent statement on Refugee Sunday reflects on Pope Francis' visit to a detention centre on Lampedusa, an island to which people from North Africa come, seeking a home in Europe. Many die on the sea journey. The Pope asked, “Who has grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters?”

We live in a world of bloody persecution and crushing poverty, where millions of people are on the move. The majority of Australians have been persuaded that we must be absolute masters in our own land and that we must pay the price to stop the boats. We are told we have to be tough. To be tough we have to become more indifferent. We comfort ourselves by believing the lie that the harsh policies are motivated purely by our noble desire to prevent thousands of deaths at sea.

Remembering that over 90 per cent of people who come by boat to seek protection in Australia are found to be refugees who have fled from persecution in their own land, what would it be like for a young people traumatised by what they have seen in their own lands and on the journey, to spend years in factories of mental illness called detention centres? What would it be like for families to be dumped on Vagabond Road, Christmas Island or on Nauru or Manus Island? What would it be like to live a foreigner, resourceless and with limited rights in a poor Pacific nation that struggles to care for its own citizens?

The Pope concluded his sermon on Lampedusa with a prayer. "Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this. Today, has anyone wept in our world?”

Tears of compassion are not the be all and end all of good policy. But they are its indispensable beginning.

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