Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre

Media Release
Date: 28 August 2003

Uniya Refugee and Migrant Sunday Statement

Sister Patty Fawkner, the Director of Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, offers the following reflection as Australian Christians prepare to celebrate Refugee and Migrant Sunday this weekend:

As we reflect upon the worldwide phenomenon of migrants who choose to leave their country and refugees who are forced to leave, we find wisdom and challenge in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In the Bible there are two key events which shape the identity and destiny of the people of Israel - that of Exodus and Exile.  Alienation, hostility to the stranger, and the pain of flight and exile, are common in both cases.  Israel knew what it was like to be a stranger in Egypt and then in exile.  Subsequently, we find in the Bible acute sympathy for the alien, a sympathy that is expressed in language of abundant generosity.  "You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt," says the book of Deuteronomy.  Israel, and all people who live by the biblical book, is called to give the stranger the same care that God gives.

Our honesty forces us to admit the challenge of such an injunction.  We in Australia recognise that the arrival of economic, religious and political refugees is not without problems.  There are real issues of security, border protection, and social harmony.  More fundamentally we are confronted with our own deep-seated hostility and latent racism towards the stranger, the other, the one who is different.

Like the people of Israel, however, we can be helped to accept the stranger by recalling that white Australians are descendants of convicts, immigrants and refugees.  And together with our indigenous brothers and sisters we are all descendants of boat people to this Great South Land.  Parodying the words of Deuteronomy we can say, "You shall love the stranger who now comes from Asia and Afghanistan, from Iraq and Iran, for you or your ancestors were once strangers in this land when they first came from England, Ireland, Italy, Vietnam, and Bosnia."

The biblical tradition goes further reminding us that which indigenous peoples have always known, that the land, any land, is not ours to own.  The Book of Leviticus summarises this succinctly.  "Land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me, and to me you are only strangers and guests"  (Leviticus 25:23).  In our country and on the planet which we call home, all of us are strangers and guests, stewards and sojourners.  All of us are children of the one God.

In his message for the 89th World Day of Migrants and Refugees Pope John Paul II identifies undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as the most vulnerable of strangers.  Welcoming these people into local communities, he says is a new opportunity for the Church to experience true catholicity.

May we celebrate Refugee Sunday by reflecting on our common humanity, our common experience of being stranger, and our common need for acceptance and inclusion.

Media contact:

Sr Patty Fawkner
(02) 9356 3888

Photo: You can obtain a high resolution photo of Sr Fawkner by contacting Minh Nguyen at the address below.

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Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre

PO Box 522
Kings Cross NSW 1340
Sydney Australia
Ph: + 61 2 9356 3888
Fx: + 61 2 9356 3021
Web: www.uniya.org

- received by CathNews 28/8/03