I am writing this from Alice Springs, bearing very much in mind and heart our Province Bookends Project. It was on my mind last Friday night too, when I visited the Friday Night School at the parish hall of St Ignatius’ Church in Richmond, Vic.
Every Friday night during school time, large numbers of children who have recently arrived in Australia, including refugees and seekers of asylum, receive friendship in the context of being coached and tutored. A number of parents accompany them, some travelling long distances to do so.
The children who come — up to 200 primary and secondary students — are welcomed and tutored by a large number of secondary students. They mostly come from Catholic schools in Melbourne, and faithfully attend each Friday night.
This long-serving accompaniment and educational support (the program has run for some 22 years) captures something at the very heart of our Bookends Project. It reflects the commitment we wish to make, across our Province, to accompany those who experience living on the margins of our society with all its wealth and privileges.
An example of the other ‘bookend’ can be found where I am now heading, at the Aboriginal community of Wirrimanu (aka Balgo) in the southeast Kimberley. The region was once home to me and to Fr Robin Koning SJ, who is accompanying me.
I can’t speak for the tutors and their charges who come to Friday Night School, and what they value and appreciate. But I can say, for myself, there is something joyful and quite spiritual when I return to those whom I first met some decades ago and who became my friends, deeply enriching my life.
I believe we can all experience something spiritual when we recognise the gift that we receive when we reach out to others, especially those who find themselves on the margins of our society.
As I watched those Xavier students and other tutors on Friday night, I hoped they experience something of the gratitude I continue to feel for those who welcomed me into their lives, so different from my own, many years ago. I will have the same hope for the nurses, teachers and other staff whom I meet at Wirrimanu.
The Bookends Project is about accompaniment and friendship, forming bonds of human trust and affection that cross borders and build bridges. It is envisioning and building an Australian society where those whose ancestors came first, or whose families came last, are included and respected for the unique people they are.
We become part of that state of inclusion when we realise our lives have been changed and enriched in such encounters. Perhaps our First Nations peoples, and those who are refugees or seeking asylum, will experience something of it too when they sit with us and we with them, knowing we belong on this ancient land together.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial