Migrant & Refugee Sunday

26 August 2018 | General Interest

Today the Catholic Church in Australia celebrates Migrant and Refugee Sunday. Every year, for over 100 years, the Holy Father has chosen a theme to be the focal point for this celebration.

The theme chosen by Pope Francis this year is “Welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees.” As Christians, “we have the unique opportunity to advocate and support the concrete actions [to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate our migrant and refugee neighbours],” and to share this message with all, especially our political and social leaders. Pope Francis

Bishop Vincent Long, a refugee himself, wrote in his pastoral letter for this Sunday, “Welcoming migrants and refugees in Australia begins with an open heart and an open mind”. We may ask ourselves how welcoming are we to our migrant and refugee neighbours and fellow parishioners? The Welcoming the Stranger Project set up a few years ago by some proactive parishioners is one small way St Dominic’s Parish has sought to reach out to refugees and asylum seekers. This project regularly invites all parishioners to extend our welcome and to contribute to the ongoing support of refugees and asylum seekers who have fled conflict and oppression in their own homeland by providing material and social support.

Pope Francis in speaking about protecting refers to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights provide a universal legal basis for the protection of underage migrants and clearly state that children must be spared any form of detention related to migratory status, and must be guaranteed regular access to primary and secondary education. The Australian Refugee Council has a campaign going to free children still held in detention on Nauru and their families by Universal Children’s Day. They are working with a coalition of organisations to make sure they are in Australia or New Zealand by November 20. This is yet another way we can stand up and speak out. We can do this by signing petitions, writing letters to politicians and speaking in advocacy forums wherever we can.

The third challenge Pope Francis puts to us is - promoting and integrating migrants and refugees. This calls for many actions. Identifying and challenging racism or discrimination being one. Just last week we saw our national values for tolerance undermined in public by a senator’s maiden speech in Parliament. How did we react? Were we ready to add our voice to other civil and Church leaders in condemning racism and discrimination? We know it is words and actions of compassion that contribute to the building of an ‘ínclusive and tolerant’ society.

Pope Francis challenges us to “not remain behind our walls but to reach out and greet the stranger. By making those on the peripheries feel welcome, we can begin to positively encourage deeper unity within our communities”. Let us continue to do what we can to respond to the call of the gospel in this parish community, in our families and neighbourhoods as we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of migrants and refugees in this land we call Australia.

Sr Julianna OP
St Dominic’s Justice & Peace Group