CAPSA in Action – using your RESOURCES
Our parishes use our resources for people seeking asylum and refugees
By Rosie Hoban
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Matthew 25:35-36
For almost 20 years individuals and the Catholic parishes in our area, including St Joseph’s Northcote, St Mary’s Thornbury, Holy Spirit East Thornbury and St Anthony’s Alphington, have supported refugees and people seeking asylum by using their personal and community resources.
Holy Spirit parishioner Gabby Fakhri has personally supported families for decades. She encouraged many of us to respond when people, released from detention in the early 2000s, were dropped at bus stops around Melbourne with no income nor place to sleep. Gabby also ran a support house in Thornbury for many years.
A team from St Anthony’s and Holy Spirit led by Laxmi Fonseca from St Anthony’s fundraised for many years to provide rice for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and other urgent needs. A key feature has been an annual Indian Dinner, a great moment of hospitality, fundraising and importantly, awareness raising.
In the early 2000s several Catholic parishes in our area, including St Joseph’s, St Mary’s, Holy Spirit and St Anthony’s, came together to help a particular family seeking asylum. This small group of people, coordinated by Holy Spirit’s Jim Coffey, responded to the changing political and social attitudes in Australia towards refugees at the time.
Parishioners rent a house
“The 2001 federal election became known as the Tampa election as both sides of politics were toughening their polices towards refugees. As Christians, we felt that we could not stand by and do nothing.
Representatives from the parishes decided to do something practical to help make people seeking asylum and refugees feel welcome and cared for. Supported by over 200 individual parishioners and community members, who gave regular donations, we rented a house in Preston, so that a family of Kurdish people seeking asylum could have a safe and secure home after suffering persecution of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. The project ran for about 3 years before it was transferred to Hotham Mission.
While a small group of people started and ran the project, it was the generous hearts of so many ordinary parishioners, many of whom had come to Australia due to war and poverty in their own countries, that made it possible for this family to have a safe home during their first few years in Australia. I recall that time as a time of great inspiration and community spirit.”
When COVID-19 hit, these activities came to a standstill. It became impossible to mobilise our biggest resources, the good will and generosity of parishioners, in the same way.
This year the four parish communities have been combined, which has sparked renewed commitment. A combined parishes support group has been formed, to build on all our previous work. We have developed a network who are responding to the needs of both the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project and the Melbourne Adult Migrant English Program who work with newly arrived families in the northern suburbs.
Our first project in July was to introduce a Product of the Month. In July we collected and distributed 50 bottles/boxes laundry detergent. August is cooking oil and September nappies. In between times parishioners are buying MYKI cards in credit.
As they have since 2001, the parishioners are using their resources – open hearts and generosity – to respond to the very real needs of people seeking asylum our community.
Laxmi Fonseca and Jim Coffey prepare bags of groceries for local, newly arrived families from Afghanistan. (Credit: Rosie Hoban)