In Australia this week we celebrate Refugee Week. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has chosen “With courage let us all combine” as the theme for Refugee Week in Australia, for 2015 to 2017.

Taken from the second verse of the national anthem, the theme celebrates the courage of refugees and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. It serves as a call for unity and for positive action, encouraging Australians to improve our nation’s welcome for refugees and to acknowledge the skills and energy refugees bring to their new home.

Our Australian landscape – its people, economy, physical backdrop, religious diversity, freedom – is an amazingly attractive place which many people desire - those who live in this land and for those who view it from overseas. When it was known as the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, explorers sought out its shores, and our aboriginal brothers and sisters lived in harmony with the land.

Now we seek a harmony with those who come across the seas, a unity in diversity. Unfortunately this ideal is often lost in the party politics and in our media coverage. When speaking, the other day, with those who are assisting our local refugee communities, I found myself saying that our platform or framework for caring for and supporting our refugee brothers and sisters must be the Gospel. When we speak with others about our outreach to the refugee communities, then we must use the messages of Jesus who spoke in action and in parables to those who gathered around him. There are many great parables for us to draw upon.

Our readings for this weekend really speak to our Australian landscape. The reading from Mark’s gospel (4:26-34) gives us the images of seeds as the Kingdom of God. As humans we seek the Kingdom of God. The introductory message in my missal for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B says it beautifully:

The Laws of Growth. We would love to be able to plant a seed today and have a magnificent tree tomorrow. But that is not possible. It will take many years for the tree to grow to its full height. Likewise, the Church is constantly growing towards fuller maturity. The Church is nourished in its growth by the Eucharist and the Word of God. The Church is like a growing tree, already bearing fruit and giving comfort, but always open to further growth.

Our Australian landscape can be similarly viewed. We as a people are constantly growing towards fuller maturity. And as I write this, I think of our own garden at home which requires us to tend it regularly. Even when new soil has been used with no weeds, it does not seem to take long before they sprout up and need to be removed, only to grow back again and again. Our roses need to be cut back during the spring and summer and then pruned quite heavily at the end of winter, for the new growth to be productive and strong. Our vegetable patch certainly needs constant care with planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. The passionfruit vine seems to grow and grow and drop its fruit generously. But it too needs to be pruned and the dead leaves raked away to take care of the roots.

So now to our Interfaith Dialogue of Tuesday 2nd June. Bishop Bill was joined by the Anglican Bishop, Greg Thompson, the Imam of the Newcastle Mosque, Sheikh Mohamed Khamis and Farooq Ahmed from the Newcastle Muslim Association. About one hundred people gathered and several very good questions were directed to this panel of amazing church leaders. During the response to the first question, about God’s people, it became clear that those who seek goodness and truth, and recognise each other and submit themselves to God, are the people of God. It became apparent that there is a need to recognise and encounter the other person with dignity. What tends to occur is that we demonise the other, because we see them or fear them because they different. Certainly a key message was that we can now view the world as one village and there are people who distort their religious beliefs to harm others. One of the key themes from each of the members of the panel during the night was around achieving personal, communal and world peace and the place of religious leaders and communities to seek this by engaging in dialogue. It seems to me that the bigots of our time appear to take up a lot of the media space, instead of the many who are willingly engaging in conversations that seek understanding.

Refugee Week provides us with an opportunity to embrace our ‘colourful’ landscape and to seek out what we have in common. Within each tradition there are those who abuse power and distort the message of hope, healing, reconciliation, mercy, justice, peace, harmony, faith, love, tolerance, goodness, self-discipline, graciousness.......

We are all God’s children, and some of us identify as the People of God. Those of us who gathered at this dialogue– Christians and Muslims – were, and are, keen to continue to grow in our understanding of the other and to share what we hold in common, and to accept the differences. This evening was most powerful as we saw the face of God in all who were gathered. We were able to provide a safe space so the voices of the other could be heard and respected. This was a great evening.

During this week I hope you have the opportunity to speak to someone who has joined us from across the seas, so ‘with courage let us all combine’. We are so blest to live in the sacred ‘Southland of the Holy Spirit’. It is up to us to be the change we want to see.

And before I pen next week’s message, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the Environment will have made headlines. I hope over time we all read it and find a place in our hearts to really consider what he is inviting us to individually and collectively. We call this change of heart, metanoia.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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