CATHOLICS have been called upon to look on asylum seekers with compassion and mercy “in the spirit of Christmas”.
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office director Fr Maurizio Pettenà said this year more than 6000 asylum seekers would spend Christmas in immigration detention facilities.
Australian Catholic Bishops Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna said “while (Government) policy is becoming more restrictive and punitive, we ought not lose sight of the fact that on the boats there are people”.
“At Christmas, our eyes and our hearts gaze upon Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus,” he said.
“The Gospel story tells us that they sought refuge in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn (Lk 2:8).”
Fr Pettenà said “the early childhood of Jesus was marked by the experience of exile caused by the tyranny of those who were seeking to kill Him”.
“The Holy Family had to seek refuge in a foreign land,” he said.
“Many asylum seekers now live in our community without work rights and receive merely 89 per cent of any relevant government benefits forcing them to live below the poverty line.
“Yet, it is part of the mission of Christ’s faithful to ensure no one is excluded from the community.”
The factors driving asylum seekers towards Australia’s shores should also be kept in mind.
“As we continue to debate how to respond to asylum seekers who turn up at our shores, Christians should not forget that when hatred and systematic, even violent, exclusion of ethnic or religious minorities from society cause civil, political, ethnic conflicts, the flood of refugees overflow,” he said.
“In responding to asylum seekers and refugees, the first point of reference should not be the interests of the State or national security but the human person.
“This implies full respect for human rights as well as safeguarding the need to live in community, a basic requirement of the very nature of human beings.”