From the Rector
This week we have had a number of activities to remind us of the plight of forcibly displaced peoples in the world. I have been privileged to spend some of my life in refugee camps. Through this, I have met some of the most resilient people possible. In 1988, I spent time in Site 2 on the Thai-Cambodia border. In the makeshift camp hospital, I visited an 11-year-old girl who had lost both legs and her family to a land mine a few days earlier. Over the weeks I was there, she shared two sayings that have stuck: ‘To live is to hope’ − her determination amidst such adversity was so inspiring. She also quoted a maxim, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ No matter how difficult something is, just start one step at a time. And the recovery takes place over time, getting easier as you go.
I met many similar people over the years in other places. Even when they had nothing, they rebuilt their homes and cared for their families. I met great aid and development workers who helped. I saw awful things including children recruited into senseless wars as soldiers. People lost legs through weapons designed only to crush and maim. Widows grieved. Children lived their life in the reduced circumstances of detention centres. Not all was sad. Often living very simply, they discovered what mattered − the quality of relationships. I received some of the kindest hospitability from those who had littlest to give. Every one of them had a story, and every story was special.
One story was someone I did not know. Aylan Kurdi was a three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish background, who drowned on Bodrum Beach in Turkey three years ago. The photograph of a dead toddler was confronting. The Turkish police officer gently carrying his lifeless body touched people around the world. Somehow, a human face to the suffering changes the way we look. As hard as it is, we must stop looking the other way. Aylan did not deserve to drown in the coldness of water nor in the coldness of human indifference. He was a three-year-old little boy wanting to play safely, away from the threats of violence and war. He is now in Heaven with his mother and brother and many others who risked everything in the hope of reaching the shores of safety. He was one of 3,000 who died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 fleeing conflict and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and South Sudan. He was one of more than 400,000 who have died because of the conflict in Syria. Every one of them had a story and every story was special.
When we think of refugees and asylum seekers, we can easily forget the human stories. Each is you and me. And everyone has a dignity, sacredness, and destiny. Compassion invites us to value everyone’s story. We need a certain leadership to foster compassion. It is too easy to foster its opposites – self-interest, entitlement, and cold heartedness. Some politicians have turned a lack of compassion into banners like ‘We decide who can enter our country’ or 'Stop the boats'. Compared to other nations, Australia has relatively few on-shore arrivals, and yet elections can be won by the toxic politics of fear that brutalises innocent people. Homelessness, hunger, enforced poverty, and unending limbo are ongoing realities for thousands of children, women, and men seeking Australia's protection. Language is important here. It so easily makes people into ‘the other’. Consider how people who flee their country of origin and seek protection in another country can be called desperate people in necessitous circumstances fleeing privation and persecution, through to unlawful entrants, illegal immigrants, queue jumpers, people traffickers, or terrorists. The justifications about people smugglers and saving of lives at sea are increasingly disingenuous as people suffer so heartlessly in these detention centres like Manus and Nauru. They have been punished as political pawns to deter others. Cruel people have stripped away their dreams and dignity.
Addressing this reality requires a better way of seeing. Fr Andy Hamilton SJ wrote in Eureka Street recently about thick and thin commentary. He reminded us that in polemical times, a colourful world is reduced to black and white in which people and situations are esteemed or excoriated accordingly. Thin description represents people by a simple characteristic or attitude without reference to the wider circumstances that influence behaviour. Thin description leads to hasty, certain, and fixed judgments. In comparison, thick description tries to capture the complex framework of human behaviour, relationships, and motivations. Reflection is always open to more complex judgments, based on a broader knowledge of relevant contexts. Thick description reflects on the ethical, social, political, and economic complexities and their significance for community. Regrettably, thin description often rules the tabloids and other media equivalents where protagonists and victims in situations are reduced to stock characters in the chosen drama.
Father Andy noted the propensity for thin description. For example, the trials of Israel Folau can be described thinly in the competing terms of the right to expression of religious views, the right not to be harmed on the grounds of sexual identity or preference, and the right of sporting clubs not to be impeded in their moneymaking. The sad and horrible killing of Courtney Herron in Royal Park is another example. Her murder was gradually set within broader contexts. It was not about the wisdom of women walking in parks at night, but reflected on the need to address the factors contributing to male violence against women. Then it was revealed that both Courtney and the man arrested for her killing suffered from mental health issues. They lost employment, found no support, and became homeless and despairing. Father Andy noted that the thick description now focuses on both Courtney and the person accused of killing her as persons, each with their own human dignity and story.
Fr Peter Hosking SJ
OREMUS (Let us pray)
We remember all in our College community. May our prayers comfort those suffering at this time. May God’s blessing be a source of support in their sorrow and loss, and bring courage, patience, and hope.
For those who have died:
- Ubaldo Macolino, brother of Elena Rossi (staff member)
“Ask and you shall receive … knock and the door will be opened unto you.” (Matt 7:7)
If you would like someone to be remembered by the College community in prayer (even anonymously), please provide details to the Rector, class or Home Group Teacher, or Year Coordinator.
Fr Peter Hosking SJ