THE “astounding discovery” that at least 50 per cent of Catholics in a recent survey didn’t have an opinion on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees has led to the publication of a pamphlet on the Church’s teaching on the issue.
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettena said the issue had become a “political battlefield” and the main role of the Catholic Church through such information was to keep on reminding the community “that we are talking about people not just boats”.
“At the heart of the Church’s teaching is that every person is created in the image of God and we must love our neighbour as ourselves,” he said.
“It’s not just boats we’re turning around but people.
“What happens to these suffering people when we send them to places like Manus Island?
“We have a moral responsibility to them.”
The pamphlet “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” was to be launched at North Sydney’s Mary MacKillop Place on March 26.
Speakers were to include a refugee from Afghanistan Najeeba Wazefadost, who graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science from the University of Western Sydney; Jesuit Refugee Service Australia director Fr Aloysious Mowe; and Catholic Bishops’ Delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Gerard Hanna.
Fr Pettena said it was clear during the course of the last election that there was little information in the Catholic community on the Church’s teachings on refugees.
“Last year the ACMRO commissioned a questionnaire on the issue to get a better sense of the Catholic community’s attitude to refugees and asylum seekers,” Fr Pettena said.
“About 25 per cent of Catholics surveyed showed huge compassion with about the same percentage being very much against asylum seekers.
“A really astounding discovery was that 50 per cent of those surveyed either didn’t have an opinion on the topic or didn’t know much about it.
“This led to the conclusions that a large number of Catholics had never been touched by the issue or perhaps didn’t know or care about it.
“Based on those statistics it was decided to be the right time to have Catholic teachings on refugees and asylum seekers spelt out as clearly as possible.”
Topics in the pamphlet include the right to seek asylum versus the need for border protection, what situations have generated the need for people to seek asylum in the first place and the supremacy of the person versus the interests of the State.
Fr Pettena said the Church had a long tradition of social teachings on refugees and migrants “which are largely unknown” and were “quite complex”.
“However, at their heart are Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 verse 35: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’,” he said.