By Paul Dobbyn
FIVE years ago Rockhampton’s Linda Esguerra decided to spread cheer to the city’s forgotten people with a Christmas Day lunch.
This simple gesture of solidarity started a tradition that has steadily grown from 15 people to embrace more than 200 guests.
“These people represent diversity as God sees it,” Ms Esguerra, a member of Rockhampton’s diocesan council and of the city’s Filipino community, said.
“The latest lunch was attended by people from different parts of the world celebrating the birth of the Lord in one place – with lots of laughter, fellowship, good food and great company.
“Once again, we were awed by the ease in which families from India, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan embraced the moment of togetherness; how a Burmese refugee shyly extended his hand to say ‘Merry Christmas’.”
Also present were homeless people and members of Indigenous communities including Woorabinda, west of Rockhampton.
Ms Esguerra remembered the words of one guest.
“The lady said: ‘This made a lot of difference for me … I was alone and lonely until I read the invitation and decided to come’,” she said.
Ms Esguerra said she had been inspired to found the annual event after seeing Sydney’s Uniting Church Loaves and Fishes Christmas lunches attended by as many as 3000 people.
“In Rockhampton, we started by inviting members of the Indigenous community then noticed the lonely, those endlessly walking the streets, those choosing to live by the river and so on,” she said.
“Several years ago an invitation was extended to refugees and asylum seekers and this year we had about 50 from this section of the community.”