Monday, August 8, 2022
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A time for lament

We have simply ignored our responsibilities under the treaties we have signed. We have denied people landing rights, a clear process for assessing their claims in a reasonable time, and we are guilty of detaining them unlawfully and inhumanely with no prospect of being freed.

Chris Sidoti said that while our record with Indigenous Australians is better, we are far from addressing what needs to be done if we are genuinely to work towards “closing the gap”.  And we have some way to go in the area of the rights of the child, he noted. In the question time that followed, we discussed the changes to the racial vilification act which could make “hate speech” more acceptable if we are not careful.

The event was a little disheartening. Is there any hope of moving against the tide of a frightened Australia, a country so self obsessed that we are willing to let our government perpetrate human rights abuses in our name? Or are we anesthetised and paralysed by the complexity and enormity of the problem? The general feeling that night was that we must not allow ourselves to be trapped by a sense of hopelessness. But what can we do?

This time in the Christian calendar is called Lent. It is a time of prayer and fasting, leading us to Easter. Sometimes it has been marked by practices such as giving up something we like or doing a good deed for someone. This can be a little superficial. In the light of Australia’s human rights record and practice at this time, might we not attempt something a little more substantial and relevant to today’s world?

Catholic Religious Australia, a group representing all the Catholic orders of priests, brothers and sisters in Australia, has suggested we engage in a National Lament of prayer, penance and action for people seeking asylum in Australia. “We are seeking to make a Christian response to these people, rather than treating them as a ‘problem’ to be solved,” they said.

“Many people throughout Australia are disturbed by the punitive and harsh policies and conditions to which people seeking asylum in Australia are being subjected. The recent incident on Manus Island, and the death of one person and the injury of many, highlight the lack of care and dignity in the policies of both the Government and the Opposition and the absence of awareness of their legal and moral responsibilities,” they said.

Catholic Religious Australia suggests we can make Lent relevant this year by keeping asylum seekers in mind; becoming more aware of their plight and writing to the politicians. This is a form of prayer and fasting that might mean something.

Its inspiration is from the words of Pope Francis when he visited Lampedusa to meet asylum seekers. Adapting these words to Australia, Catholic Religious Australia suggest we can lament this way: We lament the lack of compassion for people seeking asylum in Australia, we lament the denial of human dignity and freedom, we lament the indifference, we lament our inability to turn the tide.

 

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