Dear Sayed: 1st Sunday of Advent (2016)

The Church has now moved into the Season of Advent. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus, often a time in which we prepare our homes for the receiving of guests, as a tradition of Christmas hospitality. Spiritually, we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our hearts.

It was a great privilege to begin this advent season in the way we did today. My daughter and I attended a card-making workshop, hosted by our dear friend, Fiona, whose contacts will send them on to various places, including the MITA in Parkville, Vic. It was a treasured time of creativity, friendship and for me, personal prayer. Here is the day, in my daughter’s words:

Today Mum, Fiona and I made Christmas cards for people in detention centres. We made about 20 handmade cards with all sorts of Christmassy decorations. There were cards with Christmas trees, candles, stars, buttons and many other things. There were many people we wrote to, but I wrote to Sayed, a young 6-year-old and Azizullah, a 13-year-old. It’s quite upsetting to hear that many people, especially young children, are put into detention centres. Around Christmas time, in the detention centres, they don’t even get a mention about Christmas. In the cards we put our names, what city we live in, and that we are thinking about them. I hope that you too can take the time this Advent and Christmas, to pray for the people who are in detention centres around Christmas. –Pia, 11 years

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With our handmade cards for our asylum seeker friends in detention.

Children never cease to amaze me. I am so grateful that I get to witness this daily. On the car ride home, Pia and I were talking about what we did in the afternoon. The conversation went on to the plight of these people who are locked up and given no presents, no decoration and no joy. It was then that she exclaimed, “How can a 6-year-old cope!”, fighting back tears, her voice breaking with emotion. A little while later, she said to me in a voice still shaken, “This music explains the situation.” The song that was playing was “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” from the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen (a highly recommended film, if you haven’t seen it!), sung by the optimistic and bubbly Anna, wherein she tries to connect with her estranged sister Elsa, who has a tendency to isolate herself. The song starts out incredibly playful and carefree, but the point at which my daughter commented, is an instrumental interlude to mark the tragic death of the characters’ parents, at sea.

I listened some more, to my daughter, and to the music. Then I heard these lyrics:

Please, I know you’re in there,
People are asking where you’ve been
They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to
I’m right out here for you, just let me in
We only have each other
It’s just you and me
What are we gonna do?

Dear Sayed, dear little one. Dear Azizullah. Dear Adam, dear Leila, dear Ali, and to all of you whose names we do not know. Please, I know you’re in there. People are asking where you’ve been. They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to, I’m right out here for you… we are right out here for you. And praying with and for you. We send you love and open hearts, especially in this advent time.
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This Advent, how will you open your hearts? How will you prepare a home and make space for Jesus and his family? May this time be a mindful journey of contemplation and compassion. It will be busy, but here we are at the beginning of it: how will you stop for a moment, to listen to the Spirit of God?

 

Holy Thursday 2014: Welcoming the Outsider, Restoring Relationship

Holy Thursday has a special place in the hearts of all who know and love the charism of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. For the sisters, it is also the feast or foundation day, as Patricia Grogan fcJ describes:

As [Marie Madeleine] dwelt on the great love of her Lord on the mysteries of his paschal meal, passion and death, she gave him her heart, her soul and her entire being, consecrating herself at the foot of the cross to the work for which God had been so long preparing her. In this hidden way, in the silence of her heart, the Society of the Faithful Companions of Jesus was born.| P. Grogan fcJ, God’s Faithful Instrument, p.75

With this in mind, I offer the following for your reflection.

I wrote recently about this year’s Palm Sunday being a Palm Sunday like no other. The same is also true for Holy Week.

Earlier in the week, I was speaking to a friend who visits refugees at a detention centre. He mentioned in passing that he had taken in food for them, so I asked why, thinking, “Don’t they have enough to eat?”

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Image: Upper Room, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Gail Meyer.

We celebrate the Eucharistic meal at every Mass. It is familiar to us who practise our faith, but it can also mean that we forget its significance and meaning in its origins. The Gospel reading for Holy Thursday says that it was during supper (John 13:2) that Jesus got up and began to wash the feet of his disciples. It is during this meal that Jesus says:

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:14-15)

The Washing of the Feet, as many have rightly interpreted, is about humility and selfless service, aspects found in the Eucharistic meal. But it is also about justice, about restoring right relationship among people. Ron Rolheiser offers the following:

The Eucharist, among other things, calls us to justice, to dissolve the distinction between rich and poor, noble and peasant, aristocrat and servant, both around the Eucharist table itself and afterwards, outside of the church. The Eucharist fulfills what Mary prophesied when she was pregnant with Jesus – namely that, in Jesus, the mighty would be brought down and the lowly would be raised up.

…The Eucharistic table is a table of social non-distinction, a place to which the rich and the poor are called to be together beyond all class and status. | Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity (2011), p.73-74)

In response to my question, my friend explained to me that it originated with the bringing of fruit – fruits like rambutan or durian, reminders of home’s comforts; or grapes, a luxury item for them, though inexpensive for Australians. He then recounted an incident where he brought in steamed dim sims (dumplings) and the group enjoyed them with their own mix of fish sauce, garlic and chili.

As I listened to the stories my friend told me, I found myself extremely moved. It’s one thing to read the stories and reports of refugees and those detained inhumanely on Nauru and Manus Island, but it’s another thing to hear from someone who has been in contact with them.

He told me that he had met with a group of asylum seekers, who on their arrival to Australia would eventually become the last group to do so, since the day on which they arrived was the same in which the Abbott government brought in the ‘boat turn-back’ policy. My friend also told me how a husband, wife and their baby who was 8-months’ old on arrival recently “had their one-year anniversary”, and also how detainees face negative consequences for conversing with Australians at the compound’s fence.

I began to weep, my heart heavy with grief for these people and for the state in which we find ourselves as Australians. I do not write this to burden you but to show you the realities of what is going on around us. Whether or not you feel passionately about the issues concerning asylum seekers, it cannot be denied that such is a “contemporary cross.” And in line with the Chapter Decree of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, we are to be “channels of hope, love and mercy in our villages, towns and cities” by standing at the foot of these contemporary crosses.

The symbol of a cross was not always the hope of the resurrection Christians recognise today. It was a mark of shame, persecution and death. Jesus Christ changed all that. With this in mind, where do you see in your world, contemporary crosses? What can you do to change things from destruction into life? What hope can you bring to the world? In what ways, great or small, do you restore right relationship in your care for the poor, the marginalised and those on the outside?

As we journey into the holy mystery of the Easter Triduum, may we remember each other, not as this person or that, but as an equal member of the Body of Christ, as one part to a unified whole.

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Conversing with the refugees | Image source: DASSAN

Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees

It has been one of the most memorable Palm Sundays for me, personally. In thanks to God for the many graces of today, I wish to recollect very briefly on the events of today.

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Palms at the rally.

After Mass, we headed into the city for an intimate, passionate and beautiful prayer service, lead by Bishop Vincent Long, himself a former refugee to Australia.

It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces from all parts of “Catholic Melbourne”, from seminarians, to school staff, priests, sisters, families and the like.

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Interior of St Patrick's Cathedral, East Melbourne

The FCJ Sisters were well-represented, with Srs Catherine Flynn, Margaret Claver Hayes, Maureen Merlo, Denise Mulcahey and Mary O’Shannessey walking with the large gathering of peaceful protesters down the streets of the Melbourne CBD.

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Our banner.

Some highlights included a group of women who called out in support for the FCJs on seeing our sign, meeting and greeting with other members of the faith we wouldn’t normally otherwise meet, as well as the joyful sounds of music, singing for justice.

Thank you to each one who attended the rally, prayed with us and kept in their hearts, solidarity with those suffering, detained and inhumanely treated.

We continue to pray and work to influence the hearts of those in government and policy-making by our actions and example, as well as all those who do not stand with us. No human being is illegal.

Reblog | Love: The Catalyst of Spiritual Evolution

In light of recent events in our part of the world, with vigils being held across the country in prayer, solidarity and peaceful protest for more humane asylum seeker policies,more compassionate acts and more decent approaches toward our fellow human beings, I wish to share something from our blog-friend William, that he reposted on his site.

The original post is entitled Love: The Catalyst of Spiritual Evolution and can be found in full on

The Green Hills Philosopher, but for now, I will share some main points in support of yesterday’s action in standing with asylum seekers.

For Jesuit philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, to cite the article:

…The human condition necessarily leads to the voluntary psychic unity of humankind. He also acknowledged that evolution is an ascent toward consciousness and therefore, signifies a continuous upsurge toward what he called the Omega Point, which for all intents and purposes, is God.

In other words, love is much more than sentiment or feeling, but a unifying force within our evolution as a specie. To grow into our humanity is to grow in association with others, in relationship with others, so as to reach our fulfillment in God.

Mainstream news outlets have said relatively little so far on the hundreds of vigils held across Australia, but the thousands of lights and voices who made them happen is nothing short of a great sign of hope – if not for immediate policy change, then at the very least, for all who were present or connected in some way.

Our efforts are nothing without love, nor is our true human development. To quote from the article again, this time, from Leonardo Boff:

It is not necessary to be more religious, but more humble, more a part of nature, responsible for her sustainability, and more careful in all human activity. Humanity must return to the Earth, from which it has exiled itself, and become her guardian. Then the natural contract will be remade. And by also opening up to the Creator, humanity’s infinite thirst would be satiated, and the reward would be peace.

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Image credit: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)

Photos from #LighttheDark Vigil for Asylum Seekers (Melbourne)

My family and I made it to Federation Square in Melbourne city to help shine light on the darkness that is the tragedy of detention centres like the one on Manus Island, which allowed 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Berati to suffer unjustly and die. Regardless of political leaning, every life is sacred and every human being deserves to be humanely treated and cared for.

Here are some photos from our night out. I was especially delighted to have met up with Sr Margaret Claver fcJ who joined us. I wish to express grateful thanks as well, to all who supported this night, through prayers, messages and thoughts, to help express an Australian culture that we can be proud of.

An individual flame is small, but together, we can shine a light so bright, for hope, for peace, for humanity, for all.

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Melburnians stand tall even before it gets dark.

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Sr Margaret Claver fcJ meets us at the vigil after a long day. Thank you.

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Laying down of lights, messages and tributes in memory of Reza Berati and all asylum seekers.

Light the Dark Vigil for Asylum Seekers

Another day, another death, another disaster. More bad news. It sounds horrible and pessimistic, but there is some truth in it. Earlier in the week, I uploaded a picture on Facebook and Twitter that read: Believe there is good in the world. The letters ‘be – the – good’ were highlighted. I really liked the image because while it said on one level, that we ought to believe and keep on believing that there is good in the world, there is the other incentive that in believing in this goodness, we ought also to embody the good.

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GetUp! Australia has called for Australians to hold a candlelight vigil for all asylum seekers, in the memory of 23-year-old asylum seeker, Reza Berati who died during the week under Australian care. As well as lighting a candle for Reza and those who suffer from the atrocities that are results of unfair governmental policy, the vigil will also symbolise the need for truth and transparency on this human rights and life issue.

Image credit: GetUp! Australia

Fr Bob Maguire has expressed in an email:

This morning, new reports have emerged from an Australian guard working for security contractor G4S, that local guards working for the company were in a frenzy and jumped on Reza’s head in a rage on Monday night, inside the detention compound. Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, now admits his initial information was wrong – that in fact most of the violence that happened on Manus occurred inside the Australian-run detention facility. Some people inside the centre say asylum seekers were attacked. The truth is we don’t yet know, because we’re being kept in the dark and journalists aren’t being allowed in to shine a light on what really happened. What we do know is that a young man named Reza came to Australia from Iran seeking our protection. Instead he was brutally killed. (via GetUp)

As an Australian, I am appalled that asylum seekers – that people – like Reza, are being treated so unjustly in detention. Moreover, as a Christian and practising Catholic, I am especially moved to do something (small though it may be) for a greater cause.

A few weeks ago, I posted a gospel reflection on being salt of the earth:

You are salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. | Matthew 5:13-15

Tonight’s vigil is a fine example in which we can show our worth, our value and our confidence, by living out the command to be “light of the world”. I believe in the power of an individual act of kindness and compassion that can change an entire group. I also believe in the importance of my being Catholic, not because Catholics or Christians are the only ones who care, or ought to show they care, but because this kind of movement is at the heart of the gospel.

In today’s Sunday liturgy, the readings speak loudly and clearly on loving one’s neighbour and on being holy as God is holy. Psalm 103 reads:

As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.

So too, we are called to be compassionate people, not just to our friends or those we know or deem ‘safe’, but to all “as far as the east is from the west…”

If you cannot make it to Federation Square tonight 23 February 2014 from 8pm for the #LighttheDark vigil, please remember us in your thoughts and prayers – for the cause, for the supporters and for those who need a sign of hope. The adage is true: it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Or to adapt another phrase: many hands make lights work. Be a light for someone today, do not curse the darkness and in this, be compassionate and holy as God is.

Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith and Hope

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Image credit | ‘Crowd’ by James Cridland

19-25 August is Migrant and Refugee Week.

A media release from the Catholic Migrant Office reads:

Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) will launch their annual Parish Resource for the celebration of Migrant and Refugee Week (19-25 August) at Australian Catholic University in Strathfield on 19 August at 10am.

The Parish Resource is developed each year by ACMRO as a way of sharing and encouraging reflection on crucial information about migration, and the teaching of the Catholic Church in this area.

This year’s theme for the resource is taken from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees: “Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith and Hope.”

Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna says that migration is deeply linked with faith, and that this year’s parish resource reflects that.

“Faith and hope are inseparable in the hearts of many migrants, who deeply desire a better life and not infrequently try to leave behind the “hopelessness” of an unpromising future. During their journeys, many of them are sustained by the deep trust that God never abandons his children and this certainty makes the pain of their uprooting and separation more tolerable and even gives them the hope of eventually returning to their country of origin”, he said in a letter introducing the resource.

The kit was designed by students from ACU National who each year volunteer to create an inspiring design.

The front cover design is based on the theme “Migrations: Pilgrimage of Faith and Hope” and the design was inspired by people around the world who are helping migrants and refugees, and images of migrating birds are representative of people who are on a pilgrimage or journey.

The resource includes the Holy Father’s message for Migrant and Refugee Sunday; a message from Bishop Hanna; migration statistics; a game for students on migrant life; a migration story; Catholic Social Teaching on mandatory immigration detention; the Sunday Gospel and Homily suggestions, as well as prayers in a number of different languages.

Download “Migrations: Pilgrimages of Faith and Hope” parish resource for the 99th World Day of Migrants and Refugees here.

For media enquiries, please contact Beth Doherty on 0407 081 256 or media@catholic.org.au | Source: Catholic Religious Australia

We remember and pray for all those who are travel in search of a better life, and especially for the asylum seekers. We also pray for policy makers and governmental leaders to open their hearts to the plight of these people.