CAPSA Submission to the Plenary Council
In reviewing and planning the directions that it should take over coming years, the Catholic Church must reach beyond its internal life. Just as Jesus’ vision went beyond the Jewish world to the salvation of the whole world, so we Catholics must ask how we can engage with the hopes and agony of the world in which we live. Chief among these, because of the moral demand they place on us as Australians and Catholics, are those of people who have fled from persecution in other lands and have sought protection in Australia.
Pope Francis has made this care for people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants central to the Catholic community. He has set up structures to consider and influence the international dimensions of forced migration. Under his watch the Vatican has pushed for a humane and compassionate response to people through the Global Compacts for migration and refugees. He has visited camps, begged for refugees to be given a home and prayed at places where they have drowned.
Our close neighbours, The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, have also visited Manus Island, and have cried out publicly for those who remain in that untenable situation.
Australia’s compassion has often been lacking in the treatment by the Australian Government of people seeking asylum, and in the attitudes of a percentage of our population, including individuals in our own Catholic community. The Catholic Church needs to actively, and as a priority, mobilise our resources in support of people seeking asylum, to communicate with our Government’s leaders, as well as promote compassion and a culture of encounter both in our Catholic community and in our wider society.
Many nation states are moving towards a more insular way of being; fear of the stranger, resulting in de-humanising language and policies, seems to be taking root across the world. The Catholic Church stands as a universal institution, which can use its voice and resources for welcome, for compassion, and for upholding the inherent dignity of people as no other global institution can. It is clear that what God is asking of us in Australia is multi-fold, but by making a stand for the wholeness, sanctuary and protection of people, against borders that have become tools of exploitation and discrimination rather than walls for refuge, the Catholic Church can both move herself and Australia forward to a place of joy, love and compassion.
In making this submission, we at the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum draw on the experience we have gained as we encourage concerted action within the Catholic community. We represent the major Catholic umbrella organisations in education, health and social outreach. We bring together Catholic individuals and groups to encourage one another, to give information about initiatives taken by others and to publicise the gatherings that CAPSA itself organises. These involve initially people giving a little time to pray together publicly, to take part in the Palm Sunday Walks for Justice and other similar activities, and to organise smaller activities in their own schools, parishes and other institutions (see further details at Appendix).
These form the beginnings of a social movement whose goal is to change Government policy and the hearts and minds of our own communities towards people who seek protection to ensure that they are treated with the humanity and respect due to them as people loved by God.
The response to these initiatives has demonstrated the commitment to justice and compassion within the Catholic community and the hunger of so many Catholics for strong concerted leadership in responding to people seeking asylum. We hope for and encourage even wider vocal and material commitments to these actions from the Church – in terms of social, pastoral, health and education support.
We recognise the number of worthy public statements by bishops both as individuals and via the bishops’ conference, statements which outline reasons for a compassionate response to people seeking asylum. Among them are the stirring words of Bishop Vincent Long:
We show the way to a culture of encounter and acceptance by a radical discipleship of love and compassion, solidarity and service. We accompany the victims of injustice in the journey to freedom with a sense of total commitment and fidelity, even when the fight in favour of God’s justice for them necessitates a witness of courage and hope. As disciples of Jesus, we are committed to building a better, a more humane, welcoming and inclusive society not by giving in to fear and suspicion but by fostering a culture of encounter, respect and acceptance.
We realise that the voice of the Church on such pressing moral issues as the respect due to people seeking protection, has been muffled by the now very public history of child sex abuse practice and cover-up. This means that the potential for such statements, which we believe still hold significant value, to influence people and effect positive change has been limited. Keeping in mind the power of Pope Francis’ gestures in travelling to Lampedusa to mourn with refugees who had drowned, it would be wonderful to see greater solidarity such as a team of bishops take similar public action that expresses compassion by accompanying PNG Bishops in visiting Manus Island or Nauru for example, to be with the men suffering there. Bold actions of this kind are worth a thousand words.
This may be impracticable, but it suggests that now only similarly bold, compassionate gestures and acts of solidarity of this kind are necessary to complement public statements in order to convey a clear message to Catholics and Australians as a whole about the proper priorities of the Catholic Church and of Australia as a nation.
The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum is a national initiative to unite the Catholic community to call for a more humane response to people seeking asylum.
Formed in 2014 by Jesuit Social Services and Cabrini Health, CAPSA is supported by an Advisory Group of national representatives that includes:
- Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
- Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
- Australian Catholic University
- Catholic Health Australia
- Catholic Mission
- Catholic Religious Australia
- Catholic Social Services Australia
- Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace
- National Catholic Education Commission
- St Vincent de Paul Society
Through our Advisory Group members, CAPSA has been able to reach a large section of the Catholic community. We currently have over 5,400 members across all states and territories, including individuals, schools, congregations, organisations and parishes. We also have an extensive and growing social media presence with over 600 followers on Twitter and 2,500 likes on Facebook.
As an example of CAPSA’s community engagement, 121 schools and more than 7,000 students have participated in our National Week of Prayer and Action, reaching close to 150,000 people.
Through education programs, forums, workshops, information stalls, actions, petitions, lobbying and many other tactics, we aim to shift public debate on this issue by showing its moral imperative through a Catholic-lens.
You can read more about CAPSA on our website: http://capsa.org.au/