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Those distant from the Christian faith: July 2017 Prayer Intention of Pope Francis

We are all invited to join with Pope Francis and his worldwide prayer network in praying this month's intention: Those distant from the Christian faith.

Text of July video:

'Let us never forget that our joy is Jesus Christ - his faithful and inexhaustible love. When a Christian becomes sad, it means that he has distanced himself from Jesus. But then we must not leave him alone! We should offer him Christian hope - with our words, yes, but more with our testimony, with our freedom, with our joy.

Let us pray that our brothers and sisters who have strayed from the faith, through our prayer and witness to the Gospel, may rediscover the beauty of the Christian life.'

We invite you to post a reflection or prayer in our prayer space.

Responding in Mercy to People Seeking Asylum

Dear Mercy Friends,

This third session of the Responding in Mercy Program will focus on People Seeking Asylum, considering the issues of global protection, local support, and our common values.

Please download the attached copy of the Mercy Futures Flyer (PDF) to find out more about our three speakers:
Carolina Gottardo ( Director - JRS Australia),
Maeve Brown (Manager - The Arrupe Project) and
Sarah Puls (Casework Team Leader).

The session will be held at the Mercy Congregation Centre, 6 Victoria Rd, Parramatta, on Wednesday 26th July, from 6.30 - 8.30pm.

RSVP: By Friday 21 July.
Email: or call the Congregation Office on 9683 2555.

We look forward to welcoming you at this event.

Breaking Bread with Refugees

On a Friday night recently, I was part of a dinner party with a group of 10 or so refugee men and a few women who had been befriending them. Some of these men were employed in a meat processing plant. Most of them have no work and relied for support on other refugees and friends in the local parish and community.

During the evening conversation focused on stamina required to work in meat processing, poverty, and concerns about impending deportation and work visas. A lot of fear and anxiety was shared, especially about family members at home far away who were being harassed and taken for questioning. Messages from relatives, urging the asylum seekers not to return home, were compounding an already tense and worrying situation.

That night my mind traveled back to other precious moments when I shared food, drink and conversation with those seeking asylum and a safe refuge.

My initial introduction to refugees and asylum seekers was Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya on the border of Sudan. I was to be the camp counselor.

As soon as I arrived at the camp, by UNHCR plane from Wilson airport in Kenya, the UNHCR lawyer met me and asked me to accompany him to the camp hospital (a tent). Recently there had been a spate of hunger strikes and deaths that the UN was hoping to curtail. My task was to prevent the death of the refugee lying on the dirt floor. He was refusing to eat and getting weaker as the days passed. I remember kneeling down beside him and hoping that I did not faint from the shock of the experience and the poverty of the situation in which I found myself. I encouraged him to break his fast and sip some milk from a teaspoon that I was dipping into a cup. This was my first sharing of food with a refugee.

On other more pleasant occasions in Kakuma, I was invited to share coffee and small eats with refugees from Eritrea This partaking of food and drink was a ritualistic ceremonial. Green coffee beans were roasted, ground with pestle and mortar, slowly immersed in boiling water and loaded with lots and lots of sugar. “Black as pitch, hot as hell and sweet as a woman” they would say-not for children or wimps. All food was eaten from a common dish with our hands. I can still remember the aroma, the taste and the inevitable anxious conversation around getting accepted into another country preferably USA. Usually water was boiled in the sun and a good deal of cooking was solar. Wood given for cooking by UNHCR would then be traded for coffee beans and other luxuries.

Another meal that is etched in memory was at Christmas Island Detention Centre. It was shared with a group of Vietnamese asylum seekers. It was a Last Supper experience. The group was to be deported early the next morning as they were labelled economic refugees and not considered eligible for Australian protection. They were extremely poor. I could tell from their yellow broken fingers and toenails, their gnarled hands and general physical appearance. The men were hoping to get enough money to send their children to school. The smugglers had assured them that they would be welcomed and get work in Australia. Needless to say this did not happen. We talked a lot about their disappointment, shattered hopes and shame at having to face their families destitute; despite the fact they had risked everything to try to help. Money was still owed to the smugglers and government officials would have to be faced on return. Imprisonment was a real possibility. Despite trying to be upbeat, I cried all the way home.

Another precious moment of sharing happened at Curtin Detention Centre, Western Australia (now closed). It was a very hot day and I was visiting a refugee who was very disturbed. We sat together in the sun for a long time, neither of us talking. Then to my surprise my companion broke the silence and asked, “Would you like a drink of water?” In all his pain and inability to articulate his own emotional, mental and physical pain, he was thinking of my needs. It was a reversal of the Woman at the Well experience and I left the Centre that day feeling refreshed and blessed.

We all know that it is a hard time to be seeking asylum or permanent residence as a refugee in Australia or any country for that matter. It is a long time gone since one only had to rap the knocker on the door of a convent, monastery or cathedral precinct to be given instant asylum, invited to share whatever food and drink was prepared and assured of a safe passage to freedom.

Maybe the day will come again when doors will again have knockers for asylum seekers and everyone will be invited to come in and to share whatever banquet is prepared. May that day come sooner rather than later.

- Valda Dickinson rsm

Article image: Christmas Island Detention Centre. CC 2.0

Advocating for Justice: One Mercy's Experience

We will open our hearts to the cries of the poor
using our energies, gifts and resources to address violence and discrimination ….
We will do this at personal, local and systemic levels
through friendship, direct assistance, advocacy and research
and by joining networks or partnerships with groups that have similar values and goals.
(Chapter Statement 2016)

As a long-time advocate for social justice I have come to understand the structural forces that cause or keep people in poverty and marginalisation. It is these structures and systems, political, economic and social, largely set up and controlled by powerful elites, that I have tried to address in order to change their negative effects on the poor

In the case of refugees and asylum-seekers, over many years particularly from the Howard era, I and those with whom I network have lobbied and written to many politicians against their harsh policies, signed petitions, attended protests, raised awareness through publications and tried to keep the issue in front of a largely indifferent society.

On a practical level, for some years I was a weekly visitor to Villawood Detention Centre to provide some social interaction with the detainees. This year Minister Peter Dutton introduced a further draconian policy that put extreme pressure on RACS a specialist legal centre in NSW providing free legal assistance to people seeking asylum subject to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's Fast Track process.

The Department of Immigration began sending out letters threatening to cancel clients' bridging visas, stop subsistence financial support and permanently deny them the right to claim asylum in Australia if they didn’t lodge their applications for protection in as little as 14 days.

Maeve Browne the Manager at Arrupe Place asked for assistance. I donated to help them employ more lawyers and sent requests for people with other language skills to help with interpretation.

Recently I accompanied Sr Maria Zhao to visit her local member Mr Anthony Albanese with a Chinese woman seeking permanent residency who was told she would be deported within two weeks. She has a 12 yr old son who has never lived in China, does not speak the language and has no known relatives there. Mr Albanese agreed to take up the matter with Minister Dutton. Unfortunately Mr Dutton refused to allow her to remain in Australia. The woman was deported, leaving her 12 yr old son behind.

Such is the effect of the present Government’s policies and attitude to these most traumatised people.

- Margaret Hinchey rsm

Refugee Week 2017: Time to Learn, to Share & to Celebrate

Refugee Week in Australia (18 June - 24 June 2017) is an opportunity for us all to educate ourselves about how and why people become refugees, do something positive for refugees and asylum seekers and take time to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities. This year's theme “With courage let us all combine” is taken from the National Anthem and urges us to work for unity.

Our congregational commitment to displaced persons resulted in our making available a cottage for the Shelter Project to have a Western Sydney base to support and assist Asylum Seekers.

Individual members of Parramatta Congregation are involved in advocacy and ministry with Refugees. We invited Sisters Margaret Sheppard and Marie Butcher to share with us here from their experiences.

Hopes Dashed on Rocks
My first direct encounter with people seeking asylum in Australia was as a Pastoral Worker serving in Curtin Detention Centre, WA, and on Christmas Island, ministering on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

It was a life-changing experience for me, sitting with men, women and children and listening to their gut-wrenching stories of survival. The most difficult part of my ministry was to watch the light of hope in their eyes gradually dim as they grasped an understanding of the policy directed to them as ‘boat arrivals’: ‘You will never settle in Australia’.
I continue to meet with some of these men and women as they struggle to fulfil the ever-changing demands imposed on them if they wish to receive one of the temporary visas being granted by the Department of Border Protection.

I feel very strongly about the injustice being metered out on such desperate people and have become an active member of several organisations whose aims are to provide factual information, to challenge and counter ‘fake news’, to engage hearts and minds through survival stories of asylum seekers, and to work for a return to integrity through change of harsh and unjust Government policy and legislation. My hope is that these aims are fulfilled and that we, as Australians, can rightly hold our heads high and sing “… For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.

Margaret Sheppard rsm

Mercy Connect
For nearly three years for one morning a week I have been a volunteer for Mercy Connect, which comes under the umbrella of Mercy Works. I work with three children from Sudan who now attend a Catholic School in the Parramatta Diocese.
When I started with them the children were in Year 1, they are now in year 3. Staying with the same children as they move up through the school is one of the benefits of the program. At first they were shy and it was difficult to get a response from them. It took about six months before they felt at ease with me.
Now when I arrive at the school if they are on the playground they always come up to me to tell me their news. It has been a delight to watch them grow in confidence.

Each year has been different with in the way I work. In Year One it was literacy. Mainly hearing them read by themself. Then assisting them with their class writing activity. In Year Two, I worked with them on their Number Work and their Religion activity. Now, in Year three, I spend the first hour with one of the children hearing her read and doing the sounds with her. In the second hour I work with the other two children with their writing activity, exploring the different types of writing and vocabulary work.

I recommend the program for anyone looking for a way to volunteer their services. There is a training program before you start in a school.

-Marie Butcher rsm

Varied and wonderful stories of five refugees in Australia were filmed at Queanbeyan Multicultural/Multilingual Centre for the United Nations #Together Campaign.
Watch the results here:

Looking for a way to be involved? The Refugee Council of Australia make a number of resources available to the public who wish to join in celebrating Refugee Week.

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