These words from the hymn by David Haas We are Called were probably sung in many churches throughout Australia on 27 September, Social Justice Sunday,. I certainly have had a significant Social Justice Week, attending the diocesan launch of the Social Justice Statement – For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas – Justice for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, as well as assisting in facilitating the Faith in Action, Newcastle and Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network workshop on Saturday. Bishop Bill also featured in Saturday’s Herald with the opinion piece – Most of us are ‘boat’ people.
I was really pleased that our Social Justice Statement launch featured in Friday’s Herald. Matilda Brown, a refugee from Liberia, told her story of escape from Liberia and her time as a refugee before coming to Australia with her children. Here she has found happiness, but more importantly, dignity. It was good to meet her and to listen to her story and to see the hope she holds for herself and her children. We also listened to another amazing story, presented by John Sandy, a refugee from Sierra Leone who became separated from his wife, with each of them living in separate refugee camps in different parts of Africa. After many years of separation, he finally joined her here in Newcastle, and he shared his gratitude for the opportunities he is now exploring. Both Matilda and John were assisted by Sr Betty from Penola House (now known as CatholicCare Refugee Service). Through Sr Betty and the volunteers at Penola House, they were given practical assistance and encouraged to seek out the opportunities which are available in Australia. I was struck by their courage and resilience because they and their families have had to begin new lives in a new country where they are seen as ‘the other’, or as an outsider, by most. What was critical for both of them was the profound sense of belonging they now have, along with the ability to call Australia home. I encourage you to read Joanne Isaac’s beautiful writings and photos of this event on mnnews.today.
Our readings for the weekend challenged us not to see ‘the other’, those who are different, as a threat. Instead of thinking of ‘us and them’ or ‘me and you’, the language of exclusion, we are encouraged to be inclusive and use ‘we’ language. When we put ourselves or people who are like us at the centre, then those who are different – in terms of gender, race, colour, language, age, profession, status, religion – become less worthy and division and power seep into our thinking and actions.
On Saturday, about forty people gathered at the Newcastle and Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network workshop, where we explored steps we could take as individuals and as communities around a number of social justice issues. The conversations were lively and those who attended left energised and hopeful. Most importantly, the developing relationship with those from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches’ social justice groups is proving a good model for local parishes or geographical communities to emulate. It certainly is my hope that a number of local inclusive social justice groups might spring up. The language of social justice is very reflective of the language and message of the gospels. Of course, I, like many of us, find the call to be socially just, difficult and challenging, because it requires that I need to change in my thinking, in my doing and in my being.
Pope Francis is truly inspiring Catholics, world leaders and people generally with his authenticity and words which are true to the message of Jesus. He is being invited into places where Popes have not trod; last week we saw him in the United States challenging its Congress to heal the wounds of the planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution. He was inviting American citizens to welcome immigrants and asylum seekers, to pursue scientific advances and legislation to stop global warming, to end the arms trade, to abolish the death penalty and to ensure that the U.S. economic system works to serve its people, particularly its most marginalised. At our social justice workshop on Saturday, Pope Francis was quoted, or his writings were referred to, by all who spoke on the key social justice issues, no matter their religious affiliation. How good is it to have a truly inspirational Christian leader, whom people are listening to and engaging with, in conversations about his challenges to us. There appears to be a realisation that what he has to say is real and necessary.
During the week we also farewelled one of our priests, Fr John Gahan, in a funeral held at the cathedral. Fr John has not been well for many years and was unable to remain in active ministry. He has lived with suffering for a long time and yet whenever I met him he spoke with gentleness and concern. He gave his life to God as a priest, a vocation he lived fully, and he spent his last years of confinement in prayer.
This coming week marks the tenth anniversary of the second of the Bali bombings which impacted on a number of families across Newcastle. Ten years on, and I still struggle with needless and senseless violence for which we now use the term ‘terrorism’. Violence perpetrated on the ‘innocent’ creates an environment of fear and suspicion, building on the sense of mistrust and demonising the other. Once again, people are invited to come to the Sacred Heart Cathedral for a Service of Remembrance and Hope. I believe something powerful happens when we gather as one, to remember, to pray, to seek forgiveness and to stand shoulder to shoulder connecting to our inner soul, to the soul of others and to the soul of the world. Somehow God holds us in a loving embrace more fully when we gather in his name.
Also this week, Bishop Bill and Bishop Greg Thompson (Anglican Bishop of Newcastle) will be dialoguing on Wholeness and Wellness, not only with each other but also with those who gather at the Therry Centre. It is good to sit with our Bishops and other Christians and share something of our story.
I finish this week’s message with the following words that were shared with us on Saturday. It is an interesting reflection on Matthew 25:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your Chapel and prayed for my release
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of God’s love
I was lonely and you left me along to pray for me
You seem so holy, so close to God, but I am still very hungry and lonely and cold.
I I invite you to consider to what you are called in the area of Social Justice. It may be that you are at the stage of being informed; it may be that you are being invited to share what you know and believe in conversations; it may be that you are being called to change some aspects of your own life; it may be that you are being called to contact your local members of parliament; it may be that you are going to consider some more direct action; it may be...
All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good people to do nothing.
I do hope you are able to find other people who are keen to do something with you.
May your week go well.