A GROUP of 30 young people, young adult leaders, priests and Bishop Eugene Hurley of Port Pirie met face to face with asylum seekers when they travelled to Woomera for the third annual Port Pirie Diocesan Assembly of Youth (DAY3) last month.
Event co-ordinator diocesan youth co-ordinator Alice Priest said Woomera was chosen for a number of reasons.
‘First, it’s at the geographical heart of our diocese, it’s also outback – a national theme this year, and it’s a place that young people are talking about, forming opinions about, but in most cases have never been to.’
This year’s youth assembly was about giving regional, rural and isolated young people from Port Pirie diocese the opportunity to come together and build a sense of community and identity through the exploration of the 2002 diocesan theme of ‘family’. The assemblies have become a successful means of building friendship, vision, spirit and mission among the young people of the diocese. Participants were engaged in a program that led them to examine their lives, their faith and their response to the asylum seekers issue as part of the consideration of their place and role in their immediate, Church and global families.
In preparing the program for the assembly, Yusuf Sheik Omar, a Somalian who has recently been granted permanent political asylum in Australia after spending two years in a Melbourne detention centre, had been invited to come and share his story with the assembly.
Additionally, an application had been made to Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) for permission for young detainees aged between 15 and 22 from the Woomera Detention Centre to join part of the program. Permission was finally granted on the second morning of the assembly for six Christian and Mandaean young adult detainees from Iran to spend the day with DAY3 participants.
What unfolded was a most extraordinary seven hours. Through a process of formal and informal sharing and activities the young people from the detention centre and the DAY3 participants came to know each other first as fellow human beings, and then as friends.
Most of the six asylum seekers had been detained in Woomera for more than a year and spoke gratefully of this day being their first opportunity since arriving in Australia to speak and spend time with Australians of their own age.
Alice said that ‘hearing first-hand from Yusuf and the young asylum seekers brought to life our consideration of Pope John Paul’s call to young people to holiness – to be “the saints of the new millennium”.
‘The richest and most challenging aspects of the three days came from one of the detainees personally appealing to us to ‘be his voice’, ‘to come together and change the mind of our government’. Yusuf’s words, ‘You don’t know what true freedom is if freedom is all you’ve ever known’, opened us up to seeing ourselves and our lives in a new way.
‘You can talk about freedom, you can talk about social justice, you can talk about holiness and by doing so you can learn something. But when you spend a day listening and looking into the eyes and hearts of six young asylum seekers, you find yourself confronting Jesus Christ and having your life changed,’ Alice said.
Those who attended DAY3 have since responded to their encounter by beginning written correspondence with their new Woomera friends and becoming their best advocates by simply sharing their DAY3 experience with their families, friends, parishes, schools and workmates.
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