Image: Perth Now
BY LOUISE McKEOGH
Earlier this month, my radio alarm woke me up to the news that a boat containing 66 Sri Lankan asylum seekers had reached Geraldton, just 425km north of Perth.
The radio announcer highlighted that the boat had been donated to Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day tsunami.
An article in my daily paper detailed the loopholes in policy where people reach the mainland and are then sent offshore for processing.
The video attached to an online news clip showed a boat (through a barb wire fence) arriving at Geraldton harbour. The tone of the article was one of affront: How could we let our space be invaded like this?
The article and media coverage only told one side of the story. We know nothing of the 66 asylum seekers:
Who are they?
What caused them to be on this boat?
What life experiences had led them to make such a desperate decision?
What are their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future?
I found that I wanted to know the story of these people - my fellow sisters and brothers on this planet.
I asked myself where God is in this story. How does our scripture speak to this?
In the first reading for Sunday 21 April, we find Paul and Barnabas in Antioch where their presence and their preaching has caused some tension between the Jewish and the Gentile communities and their respective claims for space and voice.
Jealousy and division is the tone of the relationship from one group to the other.
The Christian decision of Paul and Barnabas was to speak the Word of God, shake the dust from their feet in protest and move on to a new place (Iconium).
No doubt in the media, talkshow discussions and workplace conversations that will take place about this group of asylum seekers, and the continuing conversation about asylum seekers in our community, we can hear the call of Paul and Barnabas to speak the Gospel Word and encourage all of us to move on to a better place – a more humane and Christian understanding of the other's story.
The news article had dehumanised these people, they were now a number - 66 - nameless people, asylum seekers.
Paulo Freire states, ‘While both humanisation and dehumanisation are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation.’
The human vocation is very much the theme of the Gospel for the fourth Sunday in Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, a Sunday when we think about vocation.
Herein lies the challenge to our human and Christian vocation, to care for God's people, and here they are, these people wanting human care and shelter on our shore.
I think of the modern Shepherds I know, the people who work for and volunteer at organisations such as the House of Welcome.
Here Jo and her colleagues provide care and shelter daily for asylum seekers and refugees on their journey to become part of the community. They help their story to be told and relationships to be built.
The House of Welcome and organisations like it seek to:
• Provide a place of welcome, trust and friendship for asylum seekers and refugees;
• Assist them in their transition to life in the Australian community;
• Develop their capacity to engage confidently with the various aspects of life in Australia and our culture;
• Promote their legal and human rights as they seek to have their status recognised; and
• Enable them to become full and independent Australian citizens.
It seems to me that dialogue and conversation are the Christian way, knowing the other's story and human experiences helps us to be people of the Trinity, people of relationship, in the mode of our Trinitarian God.
Can we be the shepherds, the voices of Paul and Barnabas, who can lead our country to a better place in this conversation and in this issue?
Sister Louise McKeogh FMA is Caritas and Social Justice Office Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta.
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