It is an interesting coincidence that for the launch of the bishops’ annual social justice statement, I chose to stay in Kings Cross. The theme of this year’s statement, launched on Tuesday, is Violence in Australia, a message of peace. The statement launch was attended by social justice advocates from Sydney and surrounding dioceses, workers in the field of justice, school students, religious, and interested parties. Many of the people in the room are working at the coalface – working with some of the most challenging justice issues facing our nation – but yet, what has touched me more than being with these have been the small exchanges I have had before and after the statement launch.
Kings Cross has been a good place for me to see the real bones of the statement. Kings Cross is well known as a violent and dangerous area. It is home not only to some of the most marginalised people in this country, but also some of the wealthiest. Real estate prices soar into the millions, and yet the front doorstep of the Catholic Church each night hosts a line of mattresses with the homeless people who feel safe there.
Kings Cross is home to prostitutes and priests, drug addicts, sinners, saints, indigenous people, refugees, asylum seekers, children, adults, the poor, the rich…all human beings created in love by God, and yet damaged by our violent world….. particularly as I walk between the Kings Cross railway station and the Catholic Church, a short journey of about 200 metres, I see the whole world. I feel humbled, desperate, sad, and overjoyed all at once.
Each time I go to places like Kings Cross, I try to have change in my pocket. There is always someone who it is impossible to walk past on the street without giving them a couple of dollars. Some would say “no point giving them money – they’re gonna drink it anyway”, but I figure, well, maybe so am I – who am I to judge or assume their need? And indeed, there is much violence in this poverty – that someone in a rich country would be so marginalised by a life of disadvantage and poverty that they end up in a position of asking for money on the streets.
And I think that is the point of the social justice statement this year. In trying to choose one issue to focus on, the bishops were stuck. There is so much to consider; although we are a wealthy country which is not expressly plagued by war – there are many deeply hidden scars under the surface…and at the root of all of this is a lack of peace, or indeed, violence. Violence is not just overt physical violence, but it is made manifest in so many ways. Australia is an angry place. Everything from our treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people; our words and our greed….our racism and our hatred…..and we are all touched by this violence too. We all have some violence within us.
“It’s easy to be non-violent to peaceful people,” said Gandhi – but how easy is it to show love, peace, gentleness to those who are violent toward us? In Kings Cross, the exchanges are often violent. Between partners, between total strangers, between people who drink too much on a Saturday night. And then there is the silent violence of those who walk past the homeless people on the street each day without thinking; there is the silent acceptance of a situation which we feel we can’t change. This too is a problem. If I am okay, then everyone around me is okay. I fail to see the deep yearnings of others.
But amidst all of this is the creation of saints, and the image of Christ – it is here that the Glory of God can become clear. The saints are the priests who take in a young boy who has run away from home; they are the refugees and homeless people who share a house; it’s the businessman who gives a packet of biscuits to the woman begging at the train station. Kings Cross is a place of paradoxes…and so is Australia.
So Christ is here. Christ is very much immersed in this place. Hidden, hard to find, but so present.
Beth Doherty is media officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
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