Advocating for justice alongside refugees and people seeking asylum this Palm Sunday – a reflection by Andy Hamilton SJ

Palm Sunday is an opportunity to stand alongside our brothers and sisters who have sought refuge and asylum in Australia, and to keep in our hearts those who continue to face violence and persecution in their homelands, writes Fr Andy Hamilton SJ. 

This year we celebrate Palm Sunday at a time of some anxiety and uncertainty. Interest rates and inflation have put great stress on people by increasing the sums they need to pay for mortgages or rent. As always climate change has mapped the future in fires and floods. The drums of war have been beating ominously around the world and arouse echoes in Australia.

This year, too, our hearts go out to the many people who seek protection in our region and throughout the world. War in Ukraine and Myanmar have made many refugees. Nations like Great Britain have copied Australia in trying to turn back the boats and send refugees to Africa. In Australia, however, the New Government has shown compassion in revising cruel decisions taken by the previous government, but has left intact the legal framework that confines people who seek protection to prison and makes others live a half-life.

The anxiety of our age echoes that of the world of the first Palm Sunday. An uneasy population was controlled by the Roman legions and angered by their unpopular taxes, about to celebrate the Passover with its accompanying flood of visitors, fears of terrorism, and suspicion of many religious revivalist movements. In this climate they saw the controversial preacher, Jesus, enter the city with a few companions on a donkey. It was obviously a symbolic gesture, and certainly took the mickey out of the ways in which rulers entered cities in chariots, surrounded by line on line of armed troops and a display of loot and slaves taken from the defeated people. But anxious and cynical rulers could see even this peaceful statement as a threat.

For followers of Jesus today, however, the drama of Palm Sunday strengthens us in our commitment to refugees. It invites us to trust in what God is doing, not to despair at what our fellow human beings are doing, and to hang in with refugees in what they are suffering.  It says that each human being is worth living and dying for as the Son of God did.  It says, too, that life will triumph over death, goodness over malice and apathy, and that we find Jesus in our suffering brothers and sisters. To stay by them is a privilege.

This year we keep in our hearts the millions of refugees around the world. We rejoice with those who will be given permanent residence in Australia.  We share the struggle of those excluded from permanent residence in Australia, and with them demand a more generous and just policy. We pray that all refugees will be able to be reunited here with family members from outside Australia.   

A child might see Palm Sunday as the day of the donkey that patiently carried Jesus’ weight. Many Australians see it as the day of donkeys who keep supporting the hopeless plea of refugees to be received hospitably. We see it as the day of Jesus who rode the donkey as a sign of God’s hospitality to all human beings and of our call to follow him in showing hospitality to our brothers and sisters who have been driven out of their homes.