During the past week, I attended an online Refugee Rally to demand freedom from detention, an activity conducted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). It was a powerful show of solidarity from across the nation with at least 900 log-in participants, meaning that more than 1000 people attended.

Together we joined Mostafa (Moz) Azimitabar, Farhad Rahmati and Betelhem Tibebu Zeleke, to demand that our government show decency and compassion to refugees and people seeking asylum by releasing them into our community.

Moz and Farad spoke from inside the detention centres, while Betelhem now lives in the community. They spoke from the heart, and of the endless nightmare of being held in detention. It was clear to me that they are well educated and seek freedom after escaping conflict and danger. They spoke of seeing the worst and the best of humanity. What amazed me was their affirmation of the Australian people who support them and who feel like family to them. They see Australia as a welcoming country and called for our continued support. Their capacity and willingness to share their stories was powerful with Farad stating that “life is going on but I am not allowed to touch it.” They spoke of their gratitude for the support they have been given by ordinary Australians, and their missing the sunlight, and it is this that gives them hope.

Our voices must continue to show our solidarity and to be the voices for the voiceless ones. The following image was shared after the online rally.

This rally, and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Sunday formed the backdrop for the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

“You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and have revealed them to little ones…”                           

“Take up my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart…”

Matthew 11, 25-30

Christian Brother, Julian McDonald cfc, shared the following story as part of his reflection for this weekend’s readings:

Towards the middle of the 17th century, the Japanese Zen Buddhist master, Tetsugen Dōkō embarked on a project to have printed 7000 copies of a Japanese translation of the teachings of the Buddha. To raise funds for his venture, he travelled around Japan seeking donations. After ten long years of collecting, he had enough money to meet the printing costs. However, just as the printer was about to embark on the job, the river Uji flooded and broke its banks, leaving countless people without food and shelter. Tetsugen halted the printing and spent all his collected funds on bringing relief to the flood victims. When the crisis was over, he set out again collecting for the printing. After ten more years, he had collected enough, and returned to the printer. However, just as the printer was about to begin a second time, a plague broke out across the land, claiming many lives and leaving many others sick and disabled. Tetsugen spent all he had collected on relieving the suffering of the sick and burying the dead. When that crisis eased, he set out a third time on his collecting rounds, and years later realised his dream of seeing the sacred texts finally printed. The printing blocks are still on display in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto. Those who practice Obaku Zen Buddhism recount how Tetsugen actually had three editions of the sacred texts printed:  the first two are invisible, but far superior to the third.

What Tetsugen did effectively models for us the exhortation of today’s gospel-reading: Jesus’ message is best proclaimed not in fine rhetoric but in the way in which we reach out to others through our compassion, care and generosity. It is through our actions that justice and mercy come to life.

We will once again be reminded of the action of compassion, care and generosity, which the gospel calls us to next Sunday, 12 July, Sea Sunday, the theme of which is “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew11:28). I hope you hear about this Sunday when you attend Mass in whatever form, and that you will also be asked to contribute to the National Appeal for Sea Sunday.

I have borrowed the following from the homily notes provided for Sea Sunday:

We only have to look around us, in our homes and in our work, to recognise the many commodities that are brought to our shores by cargo ships. In fact, over 95% of global trade is carried by ships.

As an island nation, we in Australia are totally reliant on ships and the commodities they bring to us for our survival.

The Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) ministry has recognised this reality and concerns itself totally with the welfare and pastoral care of seafarers who crew these ships.

By anyone’s standards, seafarers are burdened more than most other workers. They are in need, especially at this time of the pandemic, of the rest that Jesus promises in our Gospel theme. They are burdened by:

    • Isolation
    • Loneliness
    • Exploitation
    • Wage theft
    • Climatic hardship
    • Physical, sexual and verbal abuse
    • Fear of piracy
    • Insecure employment etc.

During this Covid-19 period, all these burdens have been exacerbated, leading to extreme stress on seafarers working on cargo and cruise ships globally.

We have heard of a frightening increase in suicides on board ships.

Much was in the media about the Ruby Princess cruise ship and the plight of seafarers on that vessel. Likewise, seafarers are stranded on both cargo and cruise vessels all over the world at this time. Thousands of the seafarers have already been onboard working for 14 months straight, way beyond the end of their contract due to closed borders and Covid-19 restrictions.

The Stella Maris Apostolate has, for the past 100 years, responded to seafarers’ needs and has advocated on their behalf regardless of their colour or creed.

During this Covid-19 time, Stella Maris chaplains, managers and volunteers have doubled their efforts around the Australian ports to serve these vulnerable confined seafarers when ships dock.

In light of our Gospel theme, we have sought to ease the burdens of these seafarers who did not know when they would see their loved ones again. Some expressions of the Stella Maris ministry have eased their sufferings and brought rest to seafarers through the provision of:

    • Chaplaincy services
    • Care packs of essential hygiene products
    • Phone cards/Wi-Fi
    • Warm clothing
    • Knitted beanies
    • Communication through social media
    • Liaison with families
    • Telephone Counselling
    • Live stream Masses for Catholic seafarers
    • Advocacy on behalf of seafarers with the maritime industry
    • Advocacy with government officials …

The Stella Maris ministry is dependent on donations, both financial and in kind. This annual appeal encourages the Catholic community to acknowledge seafarers as the essential workers they are and to respond by giving back something to them in gratitude for all the sacrifices they endure to make our lives more comfortable.

Please keep seafarers and their families in your prayers and give generously to this appeal.

Mary, Star of the Sea. Pray for us.

Part of our diocesan pastoral ministries outreach is through the ministry of an Apostleship of the Sea Chaplain to Seafarers, who ministers, as part of an ecumenical team, from the Mission to Seafarers in Hannell Street. This Centre is rated as one of the best centres for seafarers in Australia, and across the globe. Seafarers have been unable to come on shore due to COVID – 19. At this centre, there are many volunteers who stand in solidarity with and commit to the wellbeing of the seafarers. The seafarers need to know they are not alone, and they are not forgotten.

So, in writing this message on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, I recall that this land on which we live was once called the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. The theme chosen for this Sunday was Together in the Spirit. I have no doubt that along with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there is something about Australia that draws us to the Spirit and the land. This is indeed a prophetic, sacred place in which we are called to share our stories and to connect as community. 

God wants to be part of our lives.

Follow mnnews.today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

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