This day reminds me of a school where I taught which had the motto ‘Peace through Justice’. We attempted to instil in our students an understanding of justice and therefore peace. I hope we were partially successful.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is ‘Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All’ which aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society to work together to strive for peace. The work of the United Nations would not be possible without the initial partnerships that were active in its creation and the thousands of partnerships each year between governments, civil society, the private sector, faith-based groups and other non-governmental organisations that are needed to support the organisation in achieving its goals.
This week around the diocese, there is a number of social justice events and reminders of the call of our scriptures to live justly. On Thursday, Bishop Bill will be leading the diocesan launch of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement 2015-16, For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas – Justice for Refugees and Asylum Seekers as a prelude to Social Justice Sunday, 27 September, which will be celebrated in many Christian Churches across Australia. On Saturday, the Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network will be conducting a workshop at Jesmond Uniting Church exploring ‘Faith in Action’ around some of the social justice issues which we presently face. This is an initiative of the local Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Churches.
In this year’s Social Justice Statement, Australian Bishops ask us to re-examine our responses to refugees and asylum seekers. The Statement reminds us of the nearly 60 million people around the world who are displaced from their homes and of the war and violence devastating countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. When people come to us seeking refuge, can we in conscience respond to them with cruel and self-defeating policies, such as offshore processing and indefinite detention?
Interestingly, this Statement was commissioned by the Bishops of Australia more than a year ago, and we are asked to read it now, in this climate of apparent increasing compassion for the plight of the Syrians who are flooding out of their homeland seeking safety, shelter, food, mercy, hope, but mostly understanding. I hope you are able to pick up a copy of this Statement in your parish this weekend, or download it from www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au I also hope you are able to view the video or Powerpoint which breaks open the Statement.
You may even wish to make a $30 yearly subscription for a number of excellent resources which are produced by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC).
We must, as Catholics, honour the principles of Catholic Social Teaching – the common good, dignity of the human person, preferential option for the poor, stewardship of creation, solidarity and subsidiarity. Not only do we have the capacity to sin individually, but we hold a social responsibility for our brothers and sisters and the environment. I believe for most of us in Australia, social sin is our ‘evil’. Our conscience needs to be informed and formed, and I hope you take the time to be informed about the many social justice issues we are facing, especially concerning people who are displaced in their own countries as well as beyond the place they call home.
I think the following paragraph from the Statement has troubled me the most:
The financial cost to Australians has been huge. In 2014-15, Australians devoted almost $3 billion to onshore and offshore detention and community placement services for several thousand asylum seekers. The budget for the Manus Island and Nauru facilities alone was over $820 million. By comparison, the UNHCR has a budget of around $5.5 billion to attend to the needs of almost 60 million people around the world.
I know the issue is amazingly complex, or as I learnt in the work of nonviolence with Pace e bene – a ‘wicked problem’. There is no one solution, but what I do know is that those who are displaced are real people who are hurting, and who have made the difficult decision to flee their homeland with their children and families in order to survive and to seek a better life. Some now wish they had perished when making this journey rather than to end up seeking asylum or in detention.
Pope Paul VI wrote in Populorum Progressio that:
Not only individuals but nations too must encounter one another in a spirit of fraternity. In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this sacred communion, we must also... work together to build the common future of the human race.
Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, the Chairman of the ACSJC, speaks as one who knows, because he came to Australia from Vietnam on a boat as a child. In his opening message to the Social Justice Statement he says:
That personal history was one reason why I chose for my motto as bishop the evocative words of Jesus to his disciples, Duc in Altum – ‘Put out into the deep’ (Luke 5:4). His words to his companions were a challenge to encounter new horizons, to go where they might not have dared, to seek grace where they had not found it before. That is the journey and the hope of all asylum seekers. I believe that those words of Jesus also challenge Australians to make a similar journey – to dare to accept the gifts that we have come to fear or reject. And there are many gifts that refugees have brought to Australia, not only as scientists, doctors, teachers and artists but as ordinary people whose talents and energy have enriched our society.
I usually sit to write this message after we have been to Sunday night Mass at the Cathedral, where I sing in the choir. Tonight was amazing, because of the make-up of our choir, a reflection of what is possible when we are open to welcome and acceptance. Tonight, our choir was made up of people whose origins have been in Italy, Tonga, Australia and China – as well as people in their eighties, seventies, sixties, fifties, forties, twenties and teens. There were people with disabilities, men and women, young and old. And guess what? We sounded amazing, because we were there to share the joy of singing to the Lord, a most joyous sound.
It can be difficult not to demonise the other, and to be threatened by difference and fear. As a Jesus person, I am commissioned to reach out to those who are aliens – the ones who are without a voice, without a home, without resources, without the means to make the change, without..... This can be challenging and difficult as an individual, and so the place of church is to provide us with a community of like-minded people who are prepared to do this as one. Are we such a church? We are called to be righteous as we heard in the reading from the letter of St James:
Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.
My prayer for this week is that those in authority, and each of us, will experience a conversion of heart for peace and justice.