In his recent article in Eureka Street, Andy Hamilton drew our attention to what I once named as ‘the bookends of rejection’ in Australian history.
The arrival of the First Fleet constitutes the first of the bookends. Notwithstanding the many decent and heroic chapters that have followed, there is no denying that our nation’s triumphs and tragedies have come at great cost to our Indigenous sisters and brothers.
The second bookend is the reality that innocent people, who have been subjected to persecution and are seeking Australia’s protection in accordance with our international obligations, have been expelled to the margins on Manus Island and Nauru, out of sight and, for many, out of heart and mind.
Because the Society’s mission is always and everywhere to stand with the poor and marginalised, a message reinforced at GC36 in terms of our reconciliation within humanity (Decree 1, 25-28), I am launching dual Province initiatives in response to these bookends.
Background work on the first of these initiatives – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reconciliation – has already begun. In the months ahead it will become more visible and I will invite your active participation in it. Ms. Anastasia Moore was recently appointed Project Officer to promote the reconciliation initiative under the supervision of our Social Ministries Delegate, Jim Barber, and working from the Province Office. In preparation for this work, Anastasia has been reviewing reconciliation initiatives around the country with a view to identifying possible strategies for the Province. I will soon convene a workshop comprised of Jesuits and lay people from across our ministries to assist us in further planning and implementation of our approach.
Significant initial work on the second bookend has also already begun with the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Task Force which I set up last year. Its work was to look at what is already being done around the Province on asylum seeker and refugee issues; current and future needs in this area; the resources of the Province that could help address those needs, especially in partnership with others; what a Province-wide response might look like; and how it might be resourced, implemented and evaluated. The new initiative in relation to the second bookend will take up the work of the Task Force under the supervision of Ms. Carolina Gottardo, Country Director of Jesuit Refugee Service. A Project Officer is currently being recruited and will be based at JRS to build on the Task Force’s report especially by exploring potential collaborative projects, best practice, opportunities and activities, that could enable us to implement a Province-wide response on asylum and refugee issues.
The Province will be pursuing these two initiatives together, and, where possible, activities in support of them will be coordinated to maximise their effectiveness. I commend our bookends projects to you most strongly and I ask you all to engage in this whole-of-Province process prayerfully and generously.
Fr Brian McCoy, Provincial