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Praying for compassion

National lament: A shrine for Reza Berati during a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers in Brisbane, on February 23. The nation-wide vigil was held in response to the death of 23-year-old Iranian man Reza Berati who died while in a detention centre on Manus Island on February 18. Photo: AAP/Dan Peled

National lament: A shrine for Reza Berati during a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers in Brisbane, on February 23. The nation-wide vigil was held in response to the death of 23-year-old Iranian man Reza Berati who died while in a detention centre on Manus Island on February 18. Photo: AAP/Dan Peled

By Paul Dobbyn

CATHOLICS have been invited to take part in a “National Lament” during Lent for Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers including the recent events on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island which left a young Iranian man dead.

Catholic Religious Australia is holding the National Lament, which will be a campaign of prayer, penance and action in support of people seeking asylum in Australia.

Among suggestions are that Friday be made a day of prayer and penance for the lack of compassion showed by Australians to asylum seekers.

Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said “the CRA Lament is a response to Pope Francis’ call to oppose what he calls ‘the globalisation of indifference’ by reaching out in mercy, compassion and justice to asylum seekers who are fleeing from dreadful circumstances”.

“The Justice and Peace Commission is very supportive of CRA’s initiative and urge Catholics in the archdiocese to participate wholeheartedly,” he said. “We also encourage parishes and individual Catholics to contact the commission to get help to find out more about asylum seekers in Australia and how they can provide practical support to asylum seekers in the community and in the detention centres.”

CRA president Sisters of Charity Sister Annette Cunliffe (pictured) said “many people throughout Australia are disturbed by the punitive and harsh policies and conditions to which people seeking asylum in Australia are being subjected”.

“The recent incident on Manus Island, and the death of one person and the injury of many, highlights the lack of care and dignity in the policies of both the Government and the Opposition and the absence of awareness of their legal and moral responsibilities”, she said.

In preparing the National Lament, CRA was taking its inspiration from the words of Pope Francis when he visited the island of Lampedusa where people seeking asylum in Italy were detained, Sr Cunliffe said.

“We lament the lack of compassion for people seeking asylum in Australia; we lament the denial of human dignity and freedom; 
we lament the indifference; we lament our inability to turn the tide,” she said.

“We are seeking to make a Christian response to these people, rather than treating them as a ‘problem’ to be solved.”

Sr Cunliffe said Catholics could also write to their local member and to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

“Such communications could express a lament for people seeking asylum in Australia,” she said.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office also expressed “great sadness” at the tragic loss of life at Manus Island on the night of February 17.

An Iranian asylum seeker identified as 23-year-old Reza Berati died and others were injured in a riot involving 77 asylum seekers.

The asylum seeker died after a confrontation with PNG police.

Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna called for calm and urged people to consider the situations which led asylum seekers to flee countries like Iran.

“Asylum seekers often endure horrific violence and persecution in their home countries,” he said.

“The current asylum policy is undermining Australia’s integrity and reputation in the international arena; Australia is less a country of refuge, but increasingly one of restrictive policies.”

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