By Caroline Smith
Jesus’ message of compassion and welcoming was brought to the forefront at the recent Palm Sunday Walk for Refugees, where nearly 1000 people came out to support people seeking asylum in Australia and around the world.
The annual event was held at St George’s Cathedral on Sunday 9 April and was organised by several Christian faith groups and various agencies including the Archdiocese of Perth’s Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO).
Other Catholic supporters of the event included Caritas Australia, MercyCare, St Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Mission, the Presentation Sisters of Western Australia and Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA).
The event began with speeches from Anglican Rector Rev Chris Bedding and Iranian refugee Arad Nik, who presented his poetry reflecting on experiences of fleeing his homeland.
Refugee voices were also represented through a letter written by Walid Zazai, an asylum seeker currently detained on Manus Island.
JEDO Director, Carol Mitchell said the Palm Sunday Walk was an important event in the agency’s calendar.
“It’s a time when we can walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who had to seek refuge, safety or asylum due to dire circumstances in their home country,” she said.
“It’s a time when we can give hope to those in detention on Manus Island and Nauru, to let them know they are not forgotten and that they matter to us.
“That we will continue to keep them in our minds, hearts and our actions.”
“In particular, opening people’s hearts to refugees and others in difficult circumstances was a way of connecting to the teachings of Jesus,” she added.
“It’s also a time when we can welcome the perceived stranger who comes knocking on our door, demonstrating our faith and being people of welcome and hospitality,” Ms Mitchell said.
“At a time when there is increasing media coverage of those wanting to build walls and barriers where there are differences, we can be people of hope building bridges and celebrating cultural and religious diversity.
“Critically, it’s important for us to remember that a life lived according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has a commitment to social justice as an essential characteristic. Through our faith, we are called to such action.”
Ms Mitchell said the Catholic Church and its agencies had often reflected on the plight of refugees, through publications such as the 2015-16 Social Justice Statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), which provided ten steps for people to help refugees or those seeking asylum in Australia.
“JEDO will continue to promote the Ten Steps, so we can be a part of the ‘good news’ as we welcome our neighbour,” she said.
“We will continue to provide opportunities for parishioners to get involved in activities that give a sense of belonging and hope to those who are marginalised and vulnerable. This is an essential call to action from our Catholic Social Teaching and thinking.”
She said there were a number of agencies and groups across the Catholic community that provided practical support to refugees in Australia, including the Edmund Rice Centre WA MercyCare, St Vincent de Paul Society, Jesuit Refugee Service and the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA).
“All of these agencies will have different ways that parishioners and other people of good will can get involved to help make a difference in the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers,” Ms Mitchell said.
“It may be helping with English skills, providing goods and services, assisting with training or employment, and being a great listener who provides hospitality and welcome.”