It is the latter that I will focus on, because of the relevance of this Statement to those people with whom we share this continent. I like the title of this Statement – A Place to Call Home – Making a Home for Everyone in Our Land.
The Statement reflects the deep concern of Australia’s Bishops at the growing problem of homelessness and insecure housing in our Australian society. It seems that there are more than 116,000 people who are homeless, while 875,000 households experience housing stress. The document uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to invite us to respond to those we see in need of care. All of us have a responsibility to not turn and walk the other way.
On Friday night Bishop Bill launched the Social Justice Statement, and stories were shared by St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Care and the Chancery, all who respond with specialist homelessness services to those who are doing it tough. The day to day work of those connected with the Matthew Talbot Hostel is inspiring because of their sheer belief in the capacity of each person they encounter to turn their lives around, by exploring with them the options for housing and security. We heard from someone with a disability, who is living in one of our diocesan affordable housing dwellings, which allowed her to develop her own sense of identity and wellbeing, independent of her first family.
The launch reflected the Australian Bishops’ emphasis that housing is a human right, asserted by documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the teachings of our Church.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
(Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
For me, I don’t think a day goes by when I am not aware of the blessings of our having a place to call home. Allen and I have shared our many homes, not only with our children, but with others who have somehow crossed our paths while needing a place to call home. Not only has our home provided them with shelter but also with a safe place, which has allowed them to take the next step.
Over the weekend, eleven of the twelve brothers and sisters of my own family met together to celebrate some significant birthdays. I recall the work of my parents in building their first home in the early 1950’s, in preparation for my birth. I was their sixth child and they took the risk to borrow funds, and to build their own place to call home. This gave our parents a secure place to provide – food, clothing and shelter, for this growing large family. The land around this home was fully utilised for the growing of produce, for chicken pens and for the housing of goats for the provision of milk. Both mum and dad were very creative in making ends meet, and home ownership was the great Australian dream, which they adopted and made real. They passed this ‘dream’ onto each of us.
As we sat at our lunch celebrations, it came to me that all of us are proud homemakers, with most of us sharing the privilege of home ownership. Mum and dad blessed all of us with a good education, a strong work ethic and a degree of resilience when adversity comes our way. While we do not see each other regularly, when we do, it is with a tremendous bond of a shared story and a deep respect, appreciation and love for the other. Needless to say, each of us is incredibly unique, and yet we share the identity of belonging to this tribe.
I am also reminded of the continuing conversations some of us are having regarding Broad-Based Community Organising, in which the hope is emerging that community-based organisations will form a possible alliance, with the goal of addressing community social concerns. Collectively, we share in the social responsibility for those who live in the Newcastle and Hunter regions. It may be that one of the initial projects to be identified will be around the topic of providing people with a place to call home.
The following words of Pope Francis speak to us:
Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope. Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’: they are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters. (2017 Message for the First World Day of the Poor)
Our Sunday readings remind all of us to take responsibility for God’s work in the community. Elders and disciples are given special gifts but others are also invited to live the Good News.
Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate has the following to say:
If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. (n.48)
One of the ten steps to making a home for everyone in our land is for parishes and communities to be welcoming places. You may like to start a conversation about how your parish can extend a welcome to everyone who comes to your church. Are you aware of the situation facing people at the local level? One of the statements made on Friday night was that each of us is just three events away from suffering hardship – employment, health and relationships being key to a stable environment.
Please read the Social Justice Statement and invite others in the community to a Table Talk in which all share in the issues facing your community and possible resolutions to make the change for the common good.
Until next week,