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JEDO launches ACBC Social Justice Statement for Perth


Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, front left, joined by fellow WA Bishops, from left, Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome, Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton and Bishop Justin Bianchini of Geraldton. The bishops came together to pray at the Perth launch of the 2015 ACBC Social Justice Statement. PHOTO: Jamie O’Brien

By Jamie O'Brien

The Archdiocese of Perth’s Justice Ecology and Development Office (JEDO) this week held the Perth launch of the 2015 Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement.

JEDO Director Carol Mitchell conducted the launch with the intention of helping local agencies, organisations and lay people understand what role they can play in supporting the plight of refugees and migrants globally, through the words of the ACBC Social Justice Statement.

The event was opened by local Aboriginal elder Marie Taylor, who spoke about the importance of welcoming refugees and migrants to Australia.

“Whenever I’m asked about what do I think of immigrants coming to this country from across the seas, I always tell people, Australia’s a big country, let them come,” Ms Taylor said.

She then conducted a blessing in the Aboriginal language and talked about the relevance of the Indigenous heritage of the location.

She also shared a dreaming story, with the theme aimed to highlight the act, ‘doing unto others, what we would want done to us’.

Father Greg Donovan, former parish priest of Kalamunda, then spoke about his experience of providing assistance to refugees, and the impact it had on his life.

“If I hadn’t gone to Kalamunda, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of meeting asylum seekers and refugees,” Fr Donovan said.

Fr Donovan went on to talk about the presence of refugees at the Kalamunda parish who were often accompanied by guards from the local detention centre.

Fr Donovan told the crowd of nearly 70 people that the presence of the refugees at the weekend Masses at Kalamunda during his time as parish priest led him to start visiting the refugees at the local detention centre, which gave him a greater insight and understanding into their story and situation.

Attendees were also privileged to hear the experience of former refugee Ashraff Mohammad, who hails originally from Afghanistan and belongs to the Hazara ethnic minority

“Hazaras are one of the religious and ethnic minorities that have lived in Afghanistan for over 4,000 years. Throughout history, they’ve been subject to mass killings, torture and discrimination,” Mr Mohammad said.

“In the 1880s, 63 per cent of my people were massacred. Out of one million, 630,000 were killed; the remainder fled or sought shelter in the mountainous part of Afghanistan. The only reason why some survived is that the mountainous region is very isolated, remote and difficult to get into,” he added.

When the Taliban came to power throughout the latter part of the 1990s and Hazaras were given the option of converting to the Sunni branch of Islam (the majority of Hazaras are Shiite Muslims), leave the country, or be killed, Mr Mohammad fled to Pakistan with his family.

At the age of seven, he found himself in Quetta, a city in Pakistan, selling plastic bags to help his family financially.

When, in 2001, a systematic killing of Hazaras began in Quetta and he lost relatives, including his seven-year-old niece, he made arrangements to flee to Australia.

“I went through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to catch a boat to Australia. Each time a wave hit us, we would close our eyes and think ‘this is the end’ as many of us could not swim. This went on for almost seven days until the Australian Navy rescued us.”

Mr Mohammad’s distress at having left his wife and two children behind due to financial reasons was only matched by the 18 months he spent inside the Curtin Detention Centre in the Kimberley region.

He described his time within the centre as a ‘psychological shock’ experienced by many who flee war-torn countries only to be faced with the misery and isolation of detention centres.

As he lives under refugee status and awaits his citizenship, Mr Mohammad is worried he is giving his family back home false expectations of reaching Australia.

“After 20 years, I still feel like I do not have the right to live like everyone else. I only find peace in thinking that my sacrifices and my journey may ensure that my children will have the basic right to live like everyone else,” he concluded.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB also spoke at the event, taking the opportunity to emphasise the importance of the prayer that accompanies the Social Justice Statement.

“The opening prayer says something very significant for all of us here and for most of the people who live in this country,” said Archbishop Costelloe.

“God of mercy, help me to remember that my ancestors came across the seas,” the Archbishop said, as he repeated the words of the opening prayer.

“It’s really important for us, as we recognise the central role which our Indigenous brothers and sisters play in the life of our country, also to remember that even they, a long, long time ago, and much more recently, all of us, through our parents, grandparents, and great, great grandparents, came here from somewhere else.

“And as we think about the refugees and asylum seekers who are presently circling the globe, trying to find a place of safety, a place where they can raise their families in security, it’s good to remember our ancestors, our relatives, often quite recently, were in very similar situations themselves.

“The other thing I think is really important and I’m sure that this is in the reflections of many of you, is to remember who we are as Christians, as disciples of Jesus.”

The Archbishop was also joined by Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders, who spoke about his role in drafting and developing the Social Justice Statement.

Bishop Saunders reflected on the current situation of refugees around the world, and drew upon the impact of Pope Francis who, in 2013, visited refugee camps to understand first-hand how the Church can assist them.

Fellow Western Australian bishops, Bishop Gerard Holohan from Bunbury, Bishop Justin Bianchini from Geraldton and Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, were also present for the occasion.