One of the purposes of Refugee Week is to promote harmony and togetherness. It attempts to unite individuals and communities from many different backgrounds because of our shared humanity.

What a difficult week it has been for us. The news has been filled with the bus accident which occurred on Sunday night 11 June. We have felt the deep impact of this accident and feel for those directly affected by the tragic loss of lives and injuries. We have also witnessed the outpouring of love and support, as people close to those impacted, and strangers, reach out to support and stand in solidarity. Our prayers remain when faced with such inexplicable disasters.

This week is Refugee Week (18 June to 24 June), the theme of which is Finding Freedom. It serves to remind us of those who come from refugee backgrounds, and who now call Australia home, and the more than 35 million refugees and 100 million displaced persons across the world. It reminds me of the blessings I feel to live in Australia and to be so free. Everyday millions of people across the world embark on dangerous journeys for the sole purpose of finding safety and freedom.

One of the purposes of Refugee Week is to promote harmony and togetherness. It attempts to unite individuals and communities from many different backgrounds because of our shared humanity.

These are the words from Sunday’s Entrance Antiphon taken from Psalm 26:7,9 which I think reflect the prayer of many fleeing to safety:

O Lord, hear my voice, for I have called to you; be my help.
Do not abandon or forsake me, O God, my Saviour!

A couple of weeks ago, at the Social Justice Council meeting, Blaise Itabelo from the CRISP (Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot) program spoke to us. His presentation was both powerful and moving. The CRISP allows groups of everyday Australians to welcome refugees into their local community and help them from ‘day one’ of their Australian journey. This program began in mid-2022 with the Federal Government partnering with CRSA (Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia). It provides us with an opportunity to act locally as part of a growing global movement.

Parishes and local communities across Australia are sponsoring and supporting refugees to live in their communities. Please consider visiting the CRISP website at Crisp activities to find out more about the program, and then to propose this mission opportunity to your parish or ecumenical network within your local community. Maybe, you could establish a Community Support Group (CSG), who could provide twelve months of practical hands-on support to a refugee household from their date of arrival in Australia. This could be one way of your parish growing missionary disciples.

CRISP provides the support and training for the local community to welcome a refugee household.

This takes me to our gospel reading for the weekend from Matthew 9:36 -10:8, in which Jesus summons the twelve disciples and sends them out:

When Jesus saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’…….

‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’

We are being summoned each day, as labourers, to reach out to the ‘lost sheep’. I remind us here of our Summary of Responses to the Second Session of our Diocesan Synod in 2021, in our Mission and Outreach section:

Diocesan respondents to the Plenary Council and Synod Listening and Dialogue recognised the need for us as a Church to look at ways of raising awareness about significant social issues, of collaborating with other social justice-minded groups, of reaching out to the poor and needy, those suffering isolation, loneliness, discrimination and mental health issues, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, homeless people, people with a disability, gender diverse people, those of other cultures and faiths, as well as all families, young people, the elderly, and volunteers.

Some respondents called for our Church communities to be a more visible presence both at local level and diocesan level in addressing social issues such as the gap between rich and poor, the care for creation, the defence of human rights and religious freedom, and the physical and spiritual needs of those on the margins.

Some called for the need to recognise, support, and collaborate with Catholic health, aged-care, and social services organisations. (page 27)

On the opposite page were the words from Pope Francis about the church being a field hospital:

Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many, many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us ... we have to help and create organisations that help in this: yes, because the Lord gives us the gifts for this. But when we forget this mission, forget poverty, forget the apostolic zeal and instead, place our hope in these human means, the Church slowly slips into becoming a non-governmental organisation, it becomes a beautiful organisation: powerful, but not evangelical, because it lacks that spirit, that poverty, that power to heal.

(Pope Francis Homily, Feb 2015)

At our local level, CatholicCare have a Refugee Hub at Mayfield which plays an integral role in the settlement of refugees in the Newcastle and Hunter region. Please visit Refugee Hub to discover how you might be able to assist with either your time, talent or treasure.

I am reminded of the song by Diana Ross - Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.

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Teresa Brierley

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