‘Pray To Let Them Stay’ brings solidarity with refugees to St Patrick’s cathedral

Tuesday 16 February 2016
Media and Communications Office

HEADED BY Bishop Vincent Long, himself a former refugee, a liturgy service was held in a packed St Patrick’s cathedral, Melbourne this morning, under the banner “Pray to Let Them Stay”. A number of visiting priests, including the Episcopal Vicar for Migrants and Refugees, Fr Ciril Bozic joined Bishop Long.

Echoing the words of the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Long, the bishops’ spokesman on refugees, re-stated the ACBC’s declaration that “the Catholic Church opposes mandatory detention and offshore detention because these policy responses do not respect the dignity of people seeking our help.”

Today’s liturgy was specifically commissioned In response to Federal government plans to send 267 people seeking asylum from Australia back to Nauru. A contingent of Catholic school students, teachers, parishioners, service providers and Catholic leaders gathered to show support and solidarity for those affected people now facing an uncertain future.

The entrance hymn drew from Marty Haugen’s anthem “Gather Us In”. The congregation sang:

   Not in the dark of buildings confining,
   Not in some heaven, light years away,
   But here in this place, the new light is shining,
   Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.

Bishop Long reminded everybody, in his opening prayer, that we are many people, with many names, from many different places, but that ALL people are precious in God’s sight and “no one is more important than another”.

In unanimous voice, the assembly prayed together, “Forgive us, God of all people, for those times when we have turned a deaf ear to the voices of asylum seekers and refugees, when our inattention and fears have added to the pain and despair of refugees, like strangers in a foreign land”.

Quotes from refugees were read to the congregation.

Arman, Jasmine’s father, said:

   I am scared for the future. I want to be able to give both Jasmine and her mother everything they ever want ibn life. I hope I get the chance”.

Subaita, Moubani’s mother, said, “Moubani’s first words were ‘daddy’ and ‘bye bye’ – she said them to one of the detention centre guards”.

In the first reading from scripture, Senator John Madigan, Victorian independent senator in the Commonwealth parliament, read from the book of Deuteronomy. Verse 17 in particular resonated with his listeners.

   "You must not pervert justice in dealing with a stranger or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were    a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I lay this charge on you”.

The Gospel, read by Father Ciril Bozic, was particularly timely. From Matthew’s Gospel, it was taken from Chapter 25. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me..…as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”.

After his homily, Bishop Long led the assembly in prayers of intercession to God, praying for energy in our struggles for justice and human rights, grieving for sufferings in our world, begging God for guidance on the path of healing and reconciliation and, finally, asking for transformation, that we may be “channels of empowerment, especially with the most vulnerable”, to which the cathedral responded, “Lord, transform us”.

Bishop Long called upon all people “who live in prosperity, peace and security to truly welcome exiles and find ways to support them in practical solidarity”.

In particular, he asked God, on behalf of all assembled, “for deeper compassion and understanding by those who legislate and implement policies, that we may produce more humane outcomes for asylum seekers and refugees. Lord, break open our hearts”.

The response was echoed by all, “Lord, break open our hearts”.

After the entire cathedral joined in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Bishop Long said the closing prayer.

“God, may your Holy Spirit empower all your people – to hear, to assess, to act, to take risks, to be the voice of those people whose voices are silenced by the indifference of the world around them.

“Loving God, you call us to welcome the stranger. Enable us to hear. Inspire us to love. Empower us to act”.

As a final hymn, with Dr Paul Taylor at the keyboard of St Patrick’s cathedral organ, the assembly sang David Haas’s setting of Micah 6:8, including:

     “Come! Open your heart!
     Show your mercy to all those in fear!
     We are called to be hope for the hopeless
     So all hatred and blindness will be no more.”

Pictures by Peter Byrne

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