Recently we held a house meeting with the Columban priests who reside in our Essendon house. Most of the priests are retired but still show a keen interest in world and Church issues.
A suggestion was made by one of us that, perhaps, we could offer accommodation to a Syrian family in the vacant house we have on our Essendon property. The house accommodated a housekeeper for many years and was referred to as the Green House due to its colour.
The suggestion was supported by a fair majority, but human nature being what it is, some wanted to think things through. They were keen to know more details before committing to the suggestion. This was a sensible approach to take. However, the affirmative vote was acted on and a Columban Co-ordinator was assigned to facilitate the transition of hosting refugees and to look after their ongoing needs.
In the blink of an eye, two women from the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project came to assess the situation, they cleaned the Green House and advised us that the house could accommodate about five single men. St Vincent de Paul arrived shortly after with some furniture.
Already we have a Nigerian man living in the house. This morning, I met a man outside our office who is a Muslim from Afghanistan, he belongs to the Hazara people who have been persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan for many years. After arriving in Australia, he spent five years in detention before his papers were finalised. He is interested in leaving his present accommodation in order to come and live at our Green House. Good news travels fast!
During the same house meeting, one of the Columban priests suggested that I move out of the small house I live in, just down the road and make room for a family. There is enough room for a small family, Syrian or otherwise, who are in need of a home where they can begin the long journey back to a normal life. Moving is somewhat inconvenient for me but nothing compared to the terrible suffering many of the Syrians and other peoples experienced at home and on their way to Australia.
I would expect that they may also have some difficulties settling into a new home and country, a country where the culture, language and food are so different. These problems may be compounded by trauma and personal loss.
Our offer to accommodate some refugees will not be determined by their faith. The family may be Catholic or Muslim. In any case I am thrilled with this turn of events. Why wouldn’t we do this?
As we come towards the end of the year, we pray for those who have died: our own family members, also friends, but especially the many refugees who have lost loved ones on their journey, looking for safety and a better life.
Christmas is approaching, let us remember there was no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. We know there is no room for most refugees in the First World; the barricades are going up, the minds and hearts of governments and some people have become hard. Still we will do what we can to welcome these people whom we call refugees.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims of violence, their families in Paris, Beirut, and other parts of the world. We pray for peace. Amen.
Fr Gary Walker SSC
Watch/Listen: From the Director - 2015 Christmas message