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www.mn.catholic.org.au | Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle |
AFEW YEARS ago, while speaking about
the plight of refugees and asylum
seekers, Father Frank Brennan SJ said,
"There is no substitute for eyeballing the
victim...because a personal encounter
has the potential to open the eyes of
our hearts to new understandings." I
experienced the truth of this statement
recently when I had the opportunity to
meet some refugees and asylum seekers.
In casual conversation, using simple, brief
statements, they told their stories of lives
lived running from persecution and conflict.
At one time I asked an everyday question.
"What time do you usually get up in
The simple reply was, "4.30am...to pray".
When I mentioned to one man the rosary
beads I had glimpsed tucked under his
shirt collar, he looked me straight in the
eye and said, "If I don't have faith, I don't
have hope" - and these are the people we
don't want in our streets?
Another man shared that he has a good
job, pays his taxes and lives in a Housing
Commission unit. He went on to say that
he had been the recipient of countless
acts of kindness from the St Vincent de
Paul Society and other caring Australians.
However, he was obviously distressed
and, when encouraged to speak more, he
went on to say that over the past weeks
and months some tenants in the unit had
gone to great lengths to let him know he
was not wanted in "their" area. At times
they have falsely reported him to police
for stealing their belongings. The police
have searched his unit each time but have
never found any stolen items. Still the
systematic harassment continues.
One night he awoke struggling to breathe.
Desperate for air, he smashed the nearby
window. Turning on the light he discovered
that the occupants living above him had
drilled a tiny hole down into this unit and
were pouring ammonia fumes into his
room. He said that he now sleeps sitting
on the toilet with the door closed, as a way
of escaping the fumes.
As an Australian, this story seems hard
to believe, but I have witnessed the
fear in his eyes and the despair on
What this story has brought home to
me is that the misinformation and fear
mongering being engendered in our society
by many means including inaccurate
newspaper reports, 'shock jocks' and
some politicians, can result in untold
harm to innocent people, while promoting
the growth of racist attitudes among
I ask myself, "What can I do to help stop
such racist attitudes from growing in this
country, where, in the past, Australians
have reached out to welcome others?"
I acknowledge that the issues are complex
but I return to Father Brennan's comment:
"There is no substitute for
eyeballing the victim...."
Maybe we are being challenged to take the
time to meet some of these people and
listen to their stories. Accurately
informed, we will be better able to
promote compassion and understanding
among our friends, families and
Fr Jim Carty SM, when speaking about
refugees, put this twist on the Gospel
story of the Good Samaritan: "If I don't
help this person, what will happen
So let's take up the challenge, where
we can, to stop the growing racism, and
encourage the growth of kindness.
Speaking to refugees,
listening to their stories.
r chat further
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