Recently, there have been many reports about the plight of Syrian refugees and of the 12,000 refugees who will be arriving on our shores. If you have been wondering what you can do as an individual, family, parish or school to identify and respond to the needs of humanitarian migrants, then read below for a list of suggestions. If you would like to donate money or provide accommodation for a Syrian family, please visit the main Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP Syrian Refugee Appeal page on the CatholicCare website. Whatever you choose to do, remember to talk to your local priest, friends, teachers and fellow Catholics about your plans – they might like to work with you.
Let’s join together to welcome the strangers amongst us!
A sincere, generous welcome
Catholic parishes are keenly placed to welcome the stranger in our midst. Our principles and values give rise to our shared interest in providing a warm, welcoming space for others, particularly the vulnerable, those in need and those who are on the periphery of our communities. These principles include: the inherent dignity of the individual person; the importance of standing in solidarity with those in need; the care of God’s creation; and the common good. Moreover, practicing hospitality to guests, whether they be strangers or fellow parishioners is a key element of a thriving parish. Over time, the consideration shown is reciprocated and we all grow and learn from the experience of supporting one another. As Pope Francis recently stated:
Each of us is responsible for his or her neighbour: we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they live. Concern for fostering good relationships with others and the ability to overcome prejudice and fear are essential ingredients for promoting the culture of encounter, in which we are not only prepared to give, but also to receive from others. Hospitality, in fact, grows from both giving and receiving.
From this perspective, it is important to view migrants not only on the basis of their status as regular or irregular, but above all as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare. This is especially the case when they responsibly assume their obligations towards those who receive them, gratefully respecting the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obeying its laws and helping with its needs….
At the heart of the Gospel of mercy the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person! Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey!
– quote from the Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016
Learn & Reflect
Our first step in welcoming others to our parishes is to learn more about them, their needs and the circumstances in which they have come to our shores. Click on the links below to read information from reputable organisations.
- Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, particularly the 2015 – 2016 Social Justice Statement, entitled ‘For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas’
- Refugee Council of Australia
- Edmund Rice Centre Asylum Seekers & Refugees Education Resource: Activities for Students
- Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
- United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
- Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
- Australian Churches Refugee Task Force
- Amnesty International Australia
- Research on the Economic, social and civic contributions of first and second generation humanitarian entrants from the National Centre for Social Applications of Geographical Information Systems, University of Adelaide
It is also worthwhile seeking out the personal stories of people who have fled their homelands and found refuge in Australia, whether this is in documentaries, podcasts, web articles or at an event where people are speaking about their own lived experience as a refugee. These generally provide rich and fruitful opportunities to learn about their journey and understand how we might better receive those who resettle in our communities. You can find written stories about the experience of refugees & asylum seekers online from the following websites.
- ‘Stories’ from the House of Welcome
- ‘Success Stories’ from Settlement Services International
- Various stories from the Jesuit Refugee Service Australia website
- UNHCR document ‘Refugees: Telling Their Stories 2005‘
- ‘Refugee Stories’ from Researchers for Asylum Seekers (affiliated with the School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne)
- ‘Personal Stories’ from the Refugee Council of Australia
Having learned more about the journeys of refugees, it is important to take the time to pray, reflect and develop a compassionate, tender heart. As Pope Francis suggested, we all need the ability to weep and to grieve for the souls who never made it to shore and the trauma experienced in the journeys of those seeking refuge. In prayer we can also seek guidance and give thanks for the safe arrival of those who have travelled a perilous journey to our shores. Below is a list of online prayer resources you might find helpful.
- A Prayer for Justice for Refugees & Asylum Seekers from the ACSJC
- Prayer for One Human Family from the Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office
- A Movement of the Heart – A Novena of Prayer for 9 Days from the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane
- ‘A theological reflection on the situation of refugees and asylum seekers: Justin Glynn SJ’ from the Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes NSW
- Prayers for Migrants, Refugees & Asylum-Seekers from Ignatian Solidarity
- The Rosary of Migrants and Itinerant People from Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
- ACSJC Social Justice Sunday Liturgy Notes 2015-16
Vigil for Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas: The Justice & Peace Office invite you to attend the upcoming evening on 2 December 2015. The Vigil will include lived-experience stories, along with prayer, scripture, discussion and time for reflection.
Consult, Collaborate & Prepare
It is important to talk to others about the issues that matter to you. You might like to ask others about their views on what kind of community they would like to live in and be part of. What role does acceptance, leadership and generosity play in your vision—and theirs? Now is the time to start thinking how those characteristics could best be demonstrated in your parish.
You can always contact your local parish priest, not only to seek help in your spiritual life, but to discuss your interest in welcoming others to the parish. Do you know whether your parish has a social justice group or something similar? If so, consider contacting the group and introducing yourself. They might already be working on these issues. If your parish hasn’t already established a social justice group, then discuss the possibility of setting one up with your parish priest and fellow parishioners. We have resources to help you set up a group, which can be found on the Justice & Peace Office website. These include: a booklet entitled ‘Toward A Social Justice Group’ and online resources for social justice groups.
One way to encourage a broader conversation within the parish is to create an event to discuss how best to welcome refugees. Such an event could be:
- An informal chat at a morning tea or evening barbeque;
- An organised table-talk or round-table discussion; or
- A meeting of a pre-existing society or group (such as a social justice group) within the parish.
These events could be held immediately after Mass. You might also like to invite a speaker to talk at the gathering. Please contact the Justice & Peace Office for ideas and contacts – we are here to support your efforts!
Building relationships is an important aspect of life within a parish. There are many ways you might choose to do this. For example, by joining networks of people who are already active in this area & working to support their efforts through fundraising or volunteering. Some organisations working in the area already include:Catholic Alliance for
- People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA)
- House of Welcome (Sydney)
- Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
- Sisters of Mercy
- Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education
- St Vincent de Paul Society
- Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart
- Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Refugee & Pastoral Care
When people walk or drive past your parish grounds, what do they see? Look around your parish and decide if you and your fellow parishioners could contribute to creating a welcoming place for others. Ideas some parishes have implemented include:
- Placing a banner on the outside of the parish gates, as the Social Justice Group did at St Benedicts in Broadway for Social Justice Sunday recently.
- Holding a gardening day, where parishioners joined in to make the landscape more inviting, as Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP is in the picture below, at a recent day at St Fiacre’s in Leichardt.
- Making a regular contribution in some way to existing efforts to support those in need.
Consider, too, what music and prayers you include in your Mass. Is it possible to include: hymns familiar to refugee Christians attending Mass; the concerns and prayers of refugees in the Prayers of the Faithful?
Also, how might you consider celebrating or raising awareness on particular occasions in 2016 such as the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this coming January 17, 2016. Pope Francis has already prepared and made available his Message the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016, which you can read. In an article about the upcoming Day, the the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers was quoted as stating: “The theme’s reference to “the Gospel of mercy,” the council said, aims “explicitly to tie the phenomenon of migration to the response of the world and, especially, of the church. In this context, the Holy Father invites the Christian people to reflect during the jubilee year on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which includes welcoming the stranger.” You might also like to create an event to celebrate the feast days of St Francis Xavier Cabrini or St John Baptist Scalabrini.
Welcome & care for others
Consider creating an event within your parish or by joining with a nearby parish to welcome individuals and families who have newly arrived. For example, Joining the Dots, a non-profit organisation runs the Welcome Dinner Project, in which interested parishioners can hold a facilitated pot-luck dinner with those who have newly arrived in their area.
Look for opportunities to celebrate the contribution of migrants and the gift of diversity within your parish. Your parish could also hold a fundraising event. For example:
- A music concert
- A sponsored walk
- A sporting event
- A cake stall or barbeque after Mass.
It is worthwhile reassessing already existing events for opportunities to bring together those who are resettling with those who are already well-established in your area. You could extend invitations to parish picnics, barbeques or school fetes and other events that are already planned.
Attending events at other parishes, too (check the Justice & Peace Office website for upcoming events) can also be very enjoyable. Don’t forget to introduce yourself at these events and ask for advice from the organisers of the event, if needed. Welcoming meals are held by other organisations, such as Settlement Services International’s Community Kitchen and you might be able to join these events.
Many refugees have experienced trauma and severe hardship and face particular challenges once they arrive. Perhaps you can create a welcoming space for them to feel at home by: establishing a friendship group; a class to learn new skills; or inviting people to outings or other events normally enjoyed by parishioners. Good examples are the SPARK programs run by the St Vincent de Paul Society. Holding introductory tours of your local suburb can help those newly arrived to orient themselves in their new life. They might also like to join existing groups in your parish, such as sporting, music, prayer or play groups for young children.
Part of making people who have newly settled in your parish welcome is letting them know their contribution would be valued & encouraging them to contribute. You can invite them to working bees and to become an active part of existing projects in the parish. People resettling in your area will have skills and experience that are valuable. Starting out, however, adults resettling may not have up-to-date resumes or a list of referees who can speak for them. Instead of donating, might your business or employer (or one you have ties to) be able to offer work to someone if they are unemployed and help to give them a good start in your community?
Finally, contributing to the public discussion about issues affecting refugees might suit you, too. One way to work on issues is through Sydney Alliance, which is a coalition of faith-based, union and community interest groups working together for the common good. The Alliance recently lobbied the NSW Government for transport concessions for asylum seekers. You can read about the success here and here.
You might also choose to write letters to or make appointments with political representatives and share your views with them. Alternatively, you might choose to invite your local politician to an event at your parish or school.
There are many different ways you can welcome and include humanitarian migrants with sincerity and generosity. Depending on your own personal circumstances and those of your parish and school, some choices might be more practical than others. Whatever you choose, the Justice and Peace Office is just a phone call or click away on your journey to prepare for and welcome the stranger amongst us!