Home' Aurora : Aurora October 2013 Contents Before the Federal election, Darwin's
Bishop Eugene Hurley wrote to now PM
Tony Abbott about his experience of
visiting detention centres in his diocese.
He recalls speaking about freedom, and
the response of one individual who said,
"Father, if freedom is all you have known,
then you have never known freedom."
Bishop Eugene is one of many Australians
who, anguished by the policies espoused
by both major political parties, has spoken
of compassion and acted accordingly.
Two local Sisters have initiated a creative
response and they invite all who feel
similarly to join them in bearing silent
witness, as one of their banners states,
"Waiting in hope with asylum seekers".
Dominican Sister Jenny Gerathy and
Josephite Sister Annie Laurie conceived
the idea of inviting people to gather quietly
at Queens Wharf, Newcastle, on Thursday
afternoons. As Jenny says, "We may feel
speechless in the face of our leaders,
and we may have been challenged when
it came to casting a vote, but we are not
speechless before our God.
"We didn't want to rally and enter into
arguments. We wanted to do something
peaceful, something that would encourage
others to think for themselves, and
hopefully bring a peaceful outcome for
Why Queens Wharf? "It's been the place of
so many 'welcomes' to our city. How many
of our ancestors arrived here from foreign
shores, and were given a warm welcome
and a new home? In turn they built our
city," says Jenny.
Annie explains how the prayer vigil arose:
"Conversation over a birthday cake,
celebrating the gift of life, and rejoicing
in our capacity to live in freedom with
friends and family, enjoying the riches of
the earth -- all this gave us the impetus to
"We were discussing a news story about
a Congolese woman who had gone to
Brisbane to meet her dead sister's five
children. The grief she experienced at the
airport was overwhelming, as the reality
of the deaths of both parents of these
children sank in. We decided we had to
do something and any number of letters to
Parliamentarians and newspapers seemed
to be falling on deaf ears."
This unorthodox approach to advocacy
seems to be striking a chord with locals --
and not-so- locals. Promoter of Charism in
Dominican Schools and former Maitlander,
Marg O'Shea, has travelled from Sydney on
a number of occasions, simply to stand in
"I've been involved in many forms of
political protest -- the anti-Vietnam
Movement, the great Palm Sunday rallies
during the Cold War....since both sides of
politics have taken such a hard-hearted
approach to asylum seekers, I have almost
been ashamed to be Australian. I thought a
vigil at the wharf was a very Dominican way
of responding to a situation that is full of
myth and spin: Contemplation and Action.
I have made a commitment to myself to be
there as many Thursdays as work permits."
David Whitson of Hamilton Wesley Uniting
Church adds a poignant note to the
gathering by bringing a small boat he has
crafted. It's filled with figures representing
asylum seekers and refugees. Beside them
stands a cross, and a sign, "Boat for sale".
David's commitment to refugees and
asylum seekers harks back to 1999: "I was
invited to perform my magic show for some
refugee children from Kosovar who were
staying at the Singleton Army Base. The joy
and wonder on the children's faces worked
some magic on me. It reminded me that
children are children. They especially
enjoyed the rabbit trick. I was told later that
many of the children had lost their pets. It
was one aspect of being a refugee that I
had never thought about.
"Now I'm involved with the Refugee
Action Network Newcastle. I hope that by
joining this silent vigil some more positivity
may arise around the welfare of asylum
One woman who identified herself as
belonging to Adamstown Uniting Church
said, "We wanted to do something and
didn't know what to do. Thank you for
doing this and letting us join you."
Annie recalled, "A teenage boy on a
scooter was obviously fascinated and kept
riding among us reading our placards; one
week an elderly man on his bike also rode
among us and said, "Terrific". A young
woman and her children on bikes signalled
their approval. Perhaps we have made
some ferry passengers feel uncomfortable
-- that is not our intention -- we would just
like them to think more about their attitude
towards asylum seekers. Several people
have expressed their dissatisfaction. That is
When asked how they would respond
to someone who said, 'What does it all
achieve?' Annie explains, "We want to
make a non-violent response. All the
discussion in the world hasn't made a
difference; neither have countless letters
to the editor. "The Lord hears the cry of
the poor" (Psalm 34). When we consider
the efforts they make to seek freedom, we
realise asylum seekers are people of hope.
We are inspired by their stance."
Jenny recalls, "Our founding Sisters from
Ireland arrived at this wharf and set about
educating the youth of the Maitland region.
Might we consider the wealth of gifted
personhood asylum seekers might bring
to our community, as our ancestors have
done before us?"
To read Bishop Eugene's letter in full,
please visit www.mn.catholic.org.
au. To read "10 essential facts about
asylum seekers" please visit www.erc.
org.au. You are welcome to join the
group at Queens Wharf on Thursdays
until Christmas 4.30-5.30pm (daylight
saving 5-6pm), for as long, or as short,
as you can. To learn of other ways to
participate, please visit
Liam Beckett of the diocesan
Communications Team participated in
the prayer vigil for asylum seekers and
reports on the experience.
The idea is as simple as their handmade
signs and as beautiful as the setting sun
over Newcastle harbour. Spend a quiet
hour on Queens Wharf, outside the ferry
waiting area, waiting in hope for some
asylum-seeker compassion. Some who
come spend the time in silent prayer.
Others use the hour for contemplation,
looking over the water as boats we find
more "palatable" - fishing vessels, coal
behemoths, the iconic Stockton ferry -
ebb in and out of the port.
Their actions could not be less
obtrusive. They lean or sit along the
wide pier so as not to interfere with
the journeys of commuters. Their
small messages of hope are no larger
or brighter than the specials boards
that dot the waterfront restaurants.
They remain in silent meditation,
perhaps whispering soft explanations
to inquisitive passersby, or waving to
friends as they arrive.
And yet despite this gentleness, or
perhaps because of it, there are strong
reactions from the public. One middle-
aged man, exercising in the late winter
sunshine, spots a sign and suddenly
turns on the group, spitting vitriol and
cursing asylum seekers. Where does it
come from? Has he ever met a refugee?
Where are these highly-skilled hordes,
storming our beaches to take our jobs?
If he has had no personal encounters
or experiences, have the policies and
slogans worked? Does his rage stem
from an exercise in political misdirection?
Worryingly, the man returns five minutes
later and I cannot help but wonder if
an afternoon run has been cut short
just for the opportunity to yell at what
is, ostensibly, a group of mature men
and women and the occasional dog.
He moves on again and the quiet vigil
continues. The mature men and women,
far stronger than I, have remained
passive and prayerful throughout.
"If freedom is all you have
known, then you have
never known freedom."
BY TRACEY EDSTEIN
I have almost been ashamed
to be Australian
www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
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