I’ve just finished reading a biography of Heinrich Himmler, the right-hand man of Adolf Hitler, running the SS, the concentration camps – all the horrible elements of that empire. At the end of the book it talks about how when Hitler and Himmler died, the whole of Europe was in a terrible mess with huge numbers of people displaced and looking for a place to build a new home.
One of the great moments of our modern history was that in this period the world generously provided avenues for people to make a new life. This happened in Australia; many people came here as refugees in the 1940s and 50s, established themselves in our country and made a huge contribution to the way we live our lives.
Many of them, of course, were members of our Church and they made a specific contribution to the life of the Church by bringing their experience of faith and their practice of the faith into our midst.
We are confronting a refugee crisis today that’s probably even worse than the one that confronted us at the end of World War II. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has this year asked us on World Day of Migrants and Refugees to think about the terrible experiences of so many of these people. His focus this year is on children.
I’m sure that we’ve all seen videos and pictures of children being caught up in the terrible experiences that are going on in some places in the world, such as Syria. The thought that they’re exposed to such violence, that their families are torn apart, that they are not able to practise their religion, that they can’t get enough to eat, would all seem to be enough to encourage us to respond to them and to provide them with a new way of life here.
So this is a moment for Australia, for the Catholic Church in Australia to reflect seriously on the circumstances of these people, and to do what we can to respond to them.
Sometimes when people talk about people coming here as migrants it’s almost as though they are talking about them as economic units. We value them because of the contribution they can make or the money they bring with them. This is not our way of doing things in the Church. We are really captivated by the importance of every person and really concerned about reaching out to them in the best way that we can.
Honouring the stories of migrants and refugees
In the midst of the Church’s experience of itself in Australian society today, it is of great importance for us to stand up for refugees and migrants, and especially for children. We can do many things in our ordinary daily lives to make pathways for these people to find a new and peaceful home in our country. It’s a challenge but one that I’m sure, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we can respond to in a generous way as we strive to build and renew the Church in Australia.