Sydney, 21 June 2011 – This week is refugee week. At a moment in our national life when politicians appear to compete with one another to show how unwelcome they find asylum seekers, the week offers us an opportunity to reflect quietly on what matters. It invites us to reflect on the human face of refugees, and on how justice and compassion urge us to respond to them.
I am delighted that all who come into contact with our Jesuit works in Australia find themselves encouraged to take refugees to their heart. Many of the Jesuits of our Australian Province came to Australia as refugees. Many others have spent time working with refugees. Our parishes and schools have offered hospitality and help in learning to many asylum seekers and refugees.
This week, too, our schools and other works have organised activities to support the Jesuit Refugee Service in its care for refugees. I am delighted to see so much energy and commitment to people who are excluded from dining at the table of the world. Such practical compassion lies at the heart of our calling to follow Jesus.
The way in which societies respond to strangers, particularly strangers who seek protection from them, is a measure of their humanity and decency. In Australian society the public discussion of asylum seekers often has a vitriolic and brutal tone. It would be easy to conclude that Australia is a brutal and uncaring society.
That is why it is so important for us to present a different and better Australian face. One that is interested in the human face of asylum seekers and refugees, and responds generously to them. The view of such a humane face encourages us to keep faith in our society.
This week I thank the Jesuit Refugee Service for its work in Australia and overseas. And I commend to you all the long and difficult work of persuading our society and Government to respond to asylum seekers in a principled and compassionate way.
Fr Steve Curtin SJ, Australia Provincial and former JRS Asia Pacific regional director