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This is a tumultuous time of year. It is the pinnacle of many things and the culmination of others. For the circus group I run it was the final annual performance on Sunday night that brought the year to a head. But for children of the same age in Australia, the year is coming to a conclusion in the height of confusion, fear and trauma. They are the 44 children who are in danger of being sent to Nauru Detention Centre, after having escaped war or persecution in their home countries, fleeing by boat to Australia to seek asylum, being shifted around detention centres and seeing a young sibling being born into a cruel world. All as we try to prepare for the birth of Jesus, who came into just such a life of fear and uncertainty. Somewhere, hiding, ready to be born, is the source of love and welcome for these forgotten ones. But for 167 children already on Nauru, that pregnant glimmer of hope seems so far, far away.

I have been visiting refugees and asylum seekers in detention and in the community since 2007 and have made many friends. I have received so much from them, I have been inspired so much by them and I have wept so much for them. I have seen the options growing fewer, the chance of resettlement or reunion growing less possible and states of mind and body becoming desecrated. Phone calls from friends in mental health hospitals or scared of being sent back break my heart. I asked one 12-year-old girl in detention where home was for her. And she showed me a picture of piles of mutilated, naked, dead bodies from the war in her country. I can’t get that image out of my head.

This year, on visiting detention centres, I took a quote with me from St Ambrose: “If you know that anybody is hungry or sick, and you have any means at all and do not help, then you will have the responsibility for each one who dies, and for each little child who might be harmed and crippled for life.” Asylum seekers and refugees who had been in detention 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, even 7 years asked me, “And what can you do about this unfair situation?” At the time, I had no answer. But through prayer and reflection I felt a MORAL IMPERATIVE to act.

It was something that grew in me, quietly and persistently, over the last couple of years. I remember a prayer night last year where we read the call of Jeremiah. In that, I heard God calling me. I had no idea what that meant or what there was for me to do, but slowly part of the road became clearer at least. I had heard about Love Makes a Way through Facebook and a friend of mine had participated in an action in Adelaide. Before doing anything along this line, I knew it had to be OK with my community, the Sisters of Mercy, and the organisation with which I had worked in detention centres. Both were supportive and I knew God’s hand was firmly in it. I was very grateful also for the continuous support of my mother and sister in Kalangadoo.

The decision to become arrestable through a prayerful sit-in did not come lightly, however. By doing this, I knew I would risk having a criminal record and of not being able to return to visit detention centres. As the day for our action grew closer, my body reacted in a nervous way and so many questions about the process swirled in my head. When I met some of the others who would be involved the week before, a moment of clarity came when we had a few minutes of quiet together. I felt a sense of peace about it all, that God’s Spirit would be present throughout.

And so we went to Jamie Briggs MP’s office on the 10th of December 2014, at the same time as 53 religious leaders and members prepared for whatever might eventuate. Our continuous hope and prayer was that we would get an answer as to when the children on Nauru would be removed from detention, and a guarantee that no children would be sent offshore. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Sitting in Mr Briggs’s office with the others I found to be a very prayerful and powerful experience. I was glad that someone else could do the talking and we could do the praying. We had various prayers, songs and poems as the drama unfolded. Outside the office, other supporters sang and prayed too. Sometimes we joined in and sometimes we were different. A lovely moment was hearing Rabbi Shoshana chant a beautiful Jewish prayer or lament.

Then the police started to come in. Strangely enough they barely looked at us as one came in and out, then two came in and out to talk to the office staff. I guess they weren’t worried we were going to be going anywhere! Then we were each taken individually by officers to the very nearby police station. I was the second-to-last to leave and spent maybe 3 hours in the station, though I didn’t have my watch on. I was questioned standing in the hallway, as there wasn’t enough room for us all in offices. Then we waited for all the details to be taken, such as fingerprints and mug shots. As we were all completely new to the police system, this took much longer than usual. It gave us a lot of time to chat to the officers and each other. My officer was very polite and courteous, and we had some good conversation about family, Inverbrackie and the fact that he didn’t want to arrest us. It was funny to see his reaction when he learned, “I’ve arrested a nun!” I reassured him that he was just doing his job, as he seemed genuinely worried that he might be eternally punished.

We experienced nothing like the strip-searches or forcible removal of the Love Makes a Way people from other states that day. It was all quite comfortable, really. In fact, I felt that much greater discomfort would be endurable as we try to understand what it is like for innocent asylum seekers. Anyway, it was a blessing to be able to be positive and keep reinforcing our nonviolent, peaceful commitments.

After I got out it was rather surreal and I was by myself a fair bit. I used that time in the evening to catch up with things over the Internet and watch a video about the nonviolent protest movement of Negro Americans. I drove back to Port Augusta the next day, the fifth trip down and back from Adelaide (300kms) in just over 2 weeks. I think I was running on lots of adrenaline. That day I got a call from the office of Rowan Ramsey, my local MP, to have a visit from him while he was in town (Port Augusta). So I met him and his wife and had a respectful but seemingly fruitless conversation for 35 minutes at our house. While they conceded various problems for asylum seekers, they did not see the need to reduce the cruel treatment of them at this time.

In the next few days I felt quite drained and tired, though I had a big event to coordinate on Sunday night. I kept getting positive feedback from people about the Love Makes a Way action and knew that it had been important, part of something much bigger than myself. On Sunday night, we put on the Port Augusta Carols by Candlelight, which I coordinated, as well as preparing the circus performance, message and nativity scene throughout. Over 400 people came and it was a wonderful celebration. On reflection, the drama of the event of Jesus’ birth caused such a train of events as no one could have imagined. Who would have thought that a poor baby, in a humble stable from a backwater like Nazareth, would herald God’s salvation throughout humankind, the earth and all the universe itself? Some would have thought: No Way! But we hear the echo of God’s reply: Love Makes A Way!

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