Archives for the month of: February, 2015

Today marks the start of Lent – Ash Wednesday. I had a few comments at my circus class this afternoon, “Is that a mark on your forehead?” “You’ve got something there!” “I rubbed mine off as soon as I got it.” The mark of ashes is a reminder about what this season is shaping up to be: a public call, a public brand. This is our life – and Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for Easter. I wrote this poem for Lent two years ago.

Lent is In

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Down the trendy Op Shop
and the chants of children
in classes:
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
There are piles of other ‘re’ words
and they all apply.
The green season
– but violet is the new green –
when it is cool to be eco-friendly.
In the latest top tips for health and wellbeing –
refresh, rejuvenate,
rejoin the reason for being here at all.
Relight the flame that has gone out.
Rejoice and return
to find Him exactly where we last left Him,
struggling to the cross-
roads of busy city streets
where all have blank looks
and “BUY!” written in their electric-powered eyes.
Remember, reground us in the earth.
Let us join the tree-huggers
and deadline-less surfies
and medicine-free remedies.
I won’t even mention retreat, that goes without saying.
Renew, redeem the silence
from the noise
and the luxury
from what you cannot buy.
Receive the vegetarian Fridays.
Repose, relax, replace our worries
with prayers.
And, most of all,
repent
for the way this trashed-up planet looks,
for the scars left on every soul,
for our refuse not yet released.
Lent is In.

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Here I share my speech in front of the Mount Barker Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. We were to stand trial for trespass, but the charges were dropped. Nevertheless, the five of us who participated in the Love Makes A Way action, and supporters, gathered to speak, pray and deliver gifts to Jamie Briggs MP and the police.

Magistrates courtJamie Briggs

Friends, I would like to share why I felt compelled to participate in this peaceful prayerful action, which was nevertheless, a convictable one. On the 10th of December last year, with these here present, I sat on Minister Jamie Briggs office floor for less than two hours, asking for when the children might be released from immigration detention and for none to be re-incarcerated. We were arrested for trespass, but our charges were then dismissed.

I have great respect for the law. I had never before been charged or convicted for any offence and none of my family have had convictions for as far back as we know. However, I chose freely to commit the minor act of trespass in order to highlight the larger crime of child abuse committed by this country’s government. I acted because of my conscience; because I felt a moral imperative and I was prepared to accept the consequences, no matter what.

Our national anthem says, “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.” According to Legal Answers, “The first easily identifiable group of refugees [to arrive in Australia] were Lutherans who began settling in South Australia from 1839 to escape restrictions on their right to worship within the state of Prussia.” Those refugees were my forebears. My brother was named John William, after Johann Wilhelm, the first settler. Although we are not original inhabitants of this country, and cannot trace our history back thousands of generations, as Aboriginal people can, I believe that we have contributed well to this land and appreciated the gifts that it offers. Then from the benefits of our Australian education and perspective, members of my family have been able to impact not only this country, but the world, for the better.

People seeking asylum here have all this potential and more. In Australia, we have ample evidence, as we see now as our Governor Hieu Van Le, who came to Australia seeking asylum on a boat likewise. The Vietnamese Catholic church in Pooraka is dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Boat People’, in honour of the faith and divine protection of their boat-borne forebears. I am a member of the Sisters of Mercy, who have for decades been working on the front line with refugees and asylum seekers. In fact, the Sisters were working in a Malaysian camp when a young refugee girl from Vietnam received their compassion and was struck by their work. Years later, after coming to Australia by herself and working to bring out all of her family members, she again met up with one of those Australian Sisters. In 2013, she was Professed herself as a Mercy, a social worker who I am proud to call my Sister.

I have volunteered and worked with people seeking asylum and refugees since 2007 and, thanks to the Sisters of Mercy, some of this has been full time. I have witnessed first hand the affects of detention, or, as it is more truly, incarceration. One seven-year-old that I knew well in detention wrote this, which was translated into English: “In here, our lives are very sad, depressing and hopeless. As each day passes, we feel heavy-hearted and lack any sense of hope. We have no way of knowing what our future holds for us…Our lives in this place are extremely depressing, we are suffering and lack any sense of a future. We don’t know who will help us.”

Fortunately, that young person is now living freely in the Australian community, going to school and building a life. Unfortunately, there still 211 children in Australian detention centres. And there are also 119 children still in detention on Nauru with no hope of repatriation in Australia. A doctor working on Nauru said holding children in detention constituted child abuse. She said, “The mandatory detention of children, particularly in offshore processing centres like Nauru, is child abuse. It is completely and utterly inappropriate and also unnecessary, in terms of it not being effective and being exorbitantly expensive.”A six-year-old there wrote this, “I am 6. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I don’t speak. I have nightmares. I live in a tent behind a big fence in Nauru. Please help my mum and dad. Free them from Nauru.” Yet Scott Morrison, when he was Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a child, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant…it doesn’t matter whether you’re an unaccompanied minor…If you’re fit enough to get on a boat, then you can expect you’re fit enough to end up in offshore processing.”

Friends, as of November 30 2014, 78% of those processed on Nauru were found to be genuine refugees, according to UNHCR standards and before appeals. Who is now ensuring their safety, wellbeing and ability to live in peace? Who in Australia cares?

Finally, I come to my faith. I am first of all a religious person, a Christian, a Catholic and a Sister of Mercy. Every aspect of my faith calls me to act in compassion for the anawim of the world – those who have no money, safety, education or voice. My conscience is pricked when I hear the words of 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.” As Reverend Tim Costello said, “As a disciple, I cannot accept that the best we can do to stop people drowning is to lock up children and send people mad.” We, voting Australians, are responsible for this elected government and they are responsible for the abuse and cruelty towards those seeking asylum. Through prayer in the last 2 years, I have felt called to an act of justice for my friends who seek asylum that goes beyond a ministry of presence and material assistance. In this action for the Love Makes a Way movement, I heard God’s quiet voice that this is God’s cause, and therefore mine.

Since my participation in the action, I have not had any negative comments from friends, family or over 750 Facebook contacts. Instead, I have received overwhelming support for being prepared to say and do what others can and may not. The most moving for me was after sharing during Mass my reasons for what I had done with my parish community. An 11-year-old girl came up and asked if she could say something. She told me that even if I was found guilty and that if the convictors thought they were in the right, don’t worry, she said, because you have taken the righteous path. I commend the upholders of the law, both the kind police and the magistrates. Thank you. But I will not promise to stop these actions on behalf of my friends. I finish with the words of St Peter and St John, while in court in Jerusalem: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”