CAPSA in Action – using your HEART

You’ve Got to Have Heart

Frances Sheahan, Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum

The 1955 Eddie Fisher song You Gotta Have Heart reminded us that when faced with difficult problems heart is the key. Beyond knowing, heart is what is going to get us up and doing to make change happen.

There are people in Catholic communities all around the country who have the heart year after year, to work for change in the nation’s heart and mind in relation to people seeking asylum. They have been working against the odds for many years because of the harshness of policies, and the intransigence of successive governments. As the song says, to persist in that situation, “you gotta have heart”.

Unity, the Darwin Catholic Diocesan magazine, in Edition 47, published letters sent to the government by one of their priests, Malcom Fyfe. In the next edition they published excerpts from the two replies he received, from Eric Abetz and jointly from Karen Andrews and Barnaby Joyce. Malcolm’s letter outlined the moral and ethical issues of long-term detention and suggested some possible next steps the government could take. The responses showed no chance of change happening, so some would ask why publish. It takes heart to trust that the publication had the capacity to raise awareness and change hearts.

In Toowoomba diocese, people with heart established The Dignity Project to provide some help for refugees and people seeking asylum, though COVID halted things somewhat. They describe the specific work they do thus:

Many of the people who have come to the Toowoomba Region seeking our nation’s protection have had their dignity stripped from them. This started in their country of origin where they were forced to flee for their lives. It continued when Australia placed them in detention centres, depriving them of basic rights for far longer than it takes any other civilised nation to process refugees. It has now been compounded as people are forced to beg for charity and given a message that they are not welcome. The Dignity Project provides administrative assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in filling in Departmental forms. The Dignity Project services are by appointment only. (Source:

Vinnies Refugee and Asylum Seeker Service (VRASS) in South Australia run Vinnies House of Welcome which provides assistance to people on TPVs and SHEVs. There is only one paid coordinator, so the work would not go ahead without the heart and passion of forty volunteers!  

During the broader campaign by Catholic organisations in 2021, VRASS held an art and story-writing competition in which refugees and people seeking asylum, both adults and children, reflected their experiences through pictures and stories. St Gabriel’s and St Brigid’s Schools were two of the main contributors. Through publication in The Southern Cross Archdiocesan Catholic newspaper, word about the issue would have reached even more people.

There are countless more examples of someone having enough courage and compassion to come up with an idea, toss it around with some others, then find a community who can make it happen.

In this process, the voices of people seeking asylum are heard more clearly and hearts are enlarged – everyone is the richer.