“JRS Australia’s work is vitally important. The advocacy it takes on as a Catholic NGO is critical in this time of frightening indifference to the lives of refugees. In addition, JRS’s work in Kings Cross and Parramatta is a commitment to those asylum seekers most in need at this time.”
JRS Australia had the pleasure of hosting two JRS Directors over the last week, International Director, Fr Tom Smolich and Asia Pacific Regional Director, Fr Bambang Sipayung.
It was a fantastic opportunity and a special occasion, to host Fr Tom and Fr Bambang, connecting the work JRS does at a local, regional and international level defending the rights of forcibly displaced people in Australia, in the Asia Pacific region and around the world,” Carolina Gottardo, Director of JRS Australia said.
A great start to the visit
After arriving from Melbourne and visiting Fr Brian McCoy SJ, the Jesuit Provincial in Australia, Fr Tom and Fr Bambang’s JRS visit kicked off at Arrupe Place in Parramatta. Here they were introduced to JRS staff members and the people we serve over a delicious lunch.
This was followed by a JRS and Friends event. The event was a way for JRS Australia to thank our friends and supporters who have made our work possible. We were honoured by all the guests who attended the lovely evening on the rooftop of St Aloysius College to gain insight into the global, regional and national refugee situations and the role of JRS as an international organisation working at these three levels.
It was a unique opportunity to hear from Fr Tom and Fr Bambang about the unprecedented numbers of refugees and forcibly displaced people around the world and how JRS is responding to crises in 51 countries across the globe.
A weekend of refugee themed Masses
Over the weekend, parishes around Australia celebrated Migrant and Refugee Sunday. On Saturday and Sunday Fr Smolich celebrated mass at St Canice’s and spoke about the global and local refugee situation to parishioners. This was followed on Sunday by the launch of The Parramatta Catholic Diocese year long Journey, “Walking with Refugees and People Seeking Protection”.
The aim of the Journey according to the diocese is to “galvanise a Diocese-wide, faith-filled urge to bring about a community and political culture that values fair and compassionate treatment of people seeking refuge and protection in Australia”.
Following the launch, the Diocesan Social Justice Office will be initiating a series of community conversations across every parish and every school within the Diocese. These conversations will be held in collaboration with several partner agencies already working in the field, including JRS Australia.
Fr Tom and Bishop Vincent Long spoke at the event. Fr Tom said: “Anxiety and fear have become a natural response to refugees and migrants. A spirit of welcome is the antidote to anxiety. Australia has a natural spirit of welcome in the culture. Arsonists of fear do not have a natural home here.”
A visit to Blaiket, the King’s Cross office and sharing with the Board
Finally the visit was wrapped up on Monday with Fr Tom and Fr Bambang taking a tour of JRS’ Blaiket Shelter, a 13-bed shelter in Elizabeth Bay which provides much needed short-term accommodation for men seeking asylum who do not have access to housing, as well as visiting JRS main offices in King’s Cross. The Directors were able to talk with the men before breaking bread with the board of JRS Australia.
What Fr Tom and Fr Bambang had to say
Fr Tom said: “JRS Australia’s work is vitally important. The advocacy it takes on as a Catholic NGO is critical in this time of frightening indifference to the lives of refugees. In addition, JRS’s work in Kings Cross and Parramatta is a commitment to those asylum seekers most in need at this time.”
“As International Director, it is important for me to visit our work worldwide, to meet the refugees we serve and the JRS staff who put accompaniment into action. My recent visit to Australia allowed me to do just that, in addition to meeting JRS board members and key partners in our mission. It was a great visit!”
Fr Bambang said: “I saw a smooth transition of leadership in JRS Australia with JRS continuing to play a significant role in responding to the hardening of heart in terms of refugee policies in Australia. During the visit I saw government new policy of taking out support from vulnerable asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus, and at the same time a grassroots movement of people in the Diocese of Parramatta in response to this hardening of heart. JRS Australia plays their role to respond the needs of the people and supporting the grassroots movement ”