Dear Friends,

This month begins with an ending, prompting us to reflect on those who are first and last in our society. National Reconciliation Week comes to an end on 3 June and then National Refugee Week begins on 16 June. Our society’s treatment of the First Peoples of this place, and of those who are the last to have arrived, challenges us to greater commitment to the common good.

Reconciliation Week has its origins in a joint initiative of faith communities with what was then the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation - it began in 1993 as a Week of Prayer for Reconciliation. This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme Grounded in Truth, Walk Together in Courage, reminds us of the fundamental importance of truth in our spiritual lives, and in the life of our society. The two meet in the dynamics of the sacrament of reconciliation and the reality of social sin.

Acknowledgement of the truth of our personal and social sin and the harm that we have done, comes before, and paves the way to repentance, efforts to make things right, conversion and commitment to change. The fact that our First Peoples continue to come last on so many socio-economic and health indicators has roots in historical injustices which need to be acknowledged and addressed in order to make lasting change.

It is fitting that during this Week we acknowledge the part that our own Church has played in these injustices through what we have done and what we have failed to do. One sign of commitment to change can be the widespread celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 7 July.

Might it be that the enduring disquiet in Australian society concerning people arriving seeking security and a decent life reflects a deeper insecurity about the basis of the presence of ‘settlers’ in this land? Without a just and proper settlement – a makarrata or treaty – who has the right to say who can or cannot make their lives here? This reluctance to welcome those most in need certainly reflects a false view of the ownership of land; the truth is that the earth is the common home of the whole human family and of all God’s creatures (Francis, Laudato Si’, n 66 – 69). Each one of us, and all peoples, belong to God’s creation - not the other way around.

Can we Australians truthfully continue to perceive ourselves as a nation that welcomes more than its share of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the face of the asylum and immigration policies of the last twenty seven years? For thousands of young Australians who voted for the first time in the recent Federal election, the post war migrations, the multiculturalism of the seventies, and our response to the Indochinese refugee crisis, were all more than a lifetime ago.

This Refugee Week we can be grateful for truth tellers like Behrouz Boochani who confront us with the human impact of our immigration and asylum policies, and we can join in the activities of the many community organizations undertaking practical action and policy advocacy.

The First Peoples and the last to arrive remind us that everyone must be included in the common good, which is after all, “the good of all of us” (Caritas in Veritate, n 7). The extent to which this is true in reality is the measure of the justice of our society. As Pope Francis says in his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019: “Jesus Christ asks us not to yield to the logic of the world, which justifies injustice to others for my own gain or that of my group. ‘Me first, and then the others!’ Instead, the true motto of the Christian is, ‘The last shall be first!’”

Dr Sandie Cornish
Editing & Research Officer


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