Melbourne Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
It was disappointing, after a week of beautiful weather, the State Emergency Service was warning people to ‘stay indoors’. How was this going to affect the numbers at the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees? How many would make it to the Prayer Service at St Patrick’s Cathedral beforehand?
The organisers were continually assessing whether to go ahead or not.
So when Fr Joe Caddy, Episcopal Vicar for Social Services, welcomed the congregation at the Cathedral, he described them as ‘the true believers’ – the true believers in the rights of people to seek protection from persecution.
Fr Caddy, who led the Prayer Service, spoke about the parallels between the passion of Christ and the treatment of people who came to Australia seeking asylum.
Jefry Yikwa, a refugee from West Papua, shared his life story from watching planes land as a child and dreaming of building aeroplanes to coming to Australia by boat and now studying aeronautical engineering. He spoke of his disappointment that his parents did not nurture his dream only to later realise that his dream would never be fulfilled if he stayed in West Papua because of the discrimination his people faced.
Representatives from CAPSA (Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum) then invited the congregation to form a Circle of Silence to reflect and pray. Afterwards, people were asked to take the Engaging Heart and Minds toolkit, to encourage those present to take further actions, such as stage a public Circle of Silence or visit their federal MP.
Most of the congregation then walked to the main Palm Sunday Walk at the State Library.
The Palm Sunday Walk has been running for a few years now and, each year, its list of endorsing organisations grows.
Though the crowd was not as big as last year, it still attracted about 5,000 people who listened to various speakers before walking a circuit along Swanston, Bourke and Elizabeth streets.
The organisers cleverly rearranged the program so all the speakers were at the beginning so, when people got back to the State Library, everyone was able to make a quick escape before the heavy rains came.
The Palm Sunday Walk attracts a wide range of people – activists and grandmothers, students and teachers, unionists and health workers, people of faith and even factions within the major political parties.
It can be said that public events like this do little to change government policies. However, they are important to let the politicians know that public attitudes have changed. They are also opportunities to let refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Australia’s punitive processing system know that there are Australians who care.
In a statement of support, Bishop Vincent Long, ACBC Delegate for Migrants & Refugees, wrote:
‘Palm Sunday galvanises us to transformative action, for it gives us a glimpse of the victory of love over hatred. We are therefore encouraged to work and turn the tide in favour of the least of our brothers and sisters. May our endeavours to replace the culture of fear and indifference with that of encounter and acceptance be brought to fruition in accordance with God’s vision of the fullness of life for all humanity.’