Friday 20 August 2021

A Time of Soul Searching

It is a time of soul searching for America and its allies, including us, as we reflect upon our involvement in the Afghanistan War over the last two decades. When I was the Rector of Xavier College, one of the saddest moments for me was concelebrating the funeral in 2011 of an Old Xaverian, Marcus Case, who was killed in Afghanistan, being thrown from a Chinook helicopter during a familiarisation flight. It brought home to me the sense of devastation and the loss that a family and a community experience when it loses one of its own in the context of war. Tragically, it is estimated that over 240,000 people have been killed in this war. Within our own community, 15 Old Ignatians have seen active service in conflicts of the 21st century, including the Afghanistan War. Fortunately, they all returned home after their time of service. We thank them for their courageous service, putting their lives on the line for the freedom of the people of Afghanistan and to prevent further terror attacks across the world.

The situation in Afghanistan this week has been a source of deep concern and despair for so many people across the world. We have seen so many images of people who are desperate to flee their homeland so as to escape the oppressive regime of the Taliban and to live with the freedoms that are part of our everyday lives. I was particularly moved by the image of 640 Afghani people [pictured left] crammed into the C-17 US Air Force cargo plane. If you look carefully at the bottom left-hand side of the image, there is a mother and father cradling their young children, wrapping them in a protective love, as they seek to escape and offer their children a future of hope and freedom.

Sadly, others were not able to fit into the plane, clinging to the undercarriage as the plane was taxiing down the runway; as we know a number of these people tragically fell to their deaths from the air. The desperation of people to escape and the fear of the future under the Taliban regime is palpable. As this week has unfolded, we have witnessed chaotic scenes at Kabul airport as thousands of people, foreign nationals as well as many Afghani people who helped the Allied forces, have sought to escape a rapidly deteriorating and perilous context. Across the world, there is great concern as to how life in Afghanistan will change under Taliban rule, especially for women and girls.

The Jesuit Magazine, America, reported that there are a small number of Jesuits working in Afghanistan, as well as the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) and Caritas Italia. They are currently waiting to be evacuated and the mission of the Jesuits and Sisters has been suspended indefinitely.

As we have looked on with deep concern about the unfolding of the desperate scenes in Kabul, many of us have felt helpless in our desire to be in solidarity with our fellow human beings who are facing a most uncertain future. Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS Australia) and the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) are calling on the Australian Government to assist the Afghani diaspora in Australia through the following actions:

  • Introducing a substantive intake of refugees and forcibly displaced people from Afghanistan, in addition to Australia’s annual humanitarian program, noting Canada’s recent commitment to take 20,000 refugees.
  • Granting permanent protection to refugees from Afghanistan who are currently in Australia on temporary visas.
  • Providing people seeking asylum from Afghanistan who are currently in Australia with fair and consistent pathways to seek permanent protection, including permitting people whose claims have been rejected to submit new applications for protection.
  • Enabling priority access to a family reunion to refugees from Afghanistan in Australia.

CAPSA has written to Alex Hawke, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services, and Multicultural Affairs, and Karen Andrews, the Minister for Home Affairs, advocating for these 4 actions. JRS Australia is encouraging all of us in the Jesuit network in Australia to make contact with our local Member of Federal Parliament, urging them to support the Afghani Community in Australia. Zaki Haidari [pictured right], the Leadership Co-ordinator at JRS Australia, fled Afghanistan at age 17 and is currently living on a temporary protection visa. Earlier this term, he shared his story and experience with our Year 9 students in their Magis course. In reflecting on the current situation in his homeland, Zaki wrote the following:

“The news coming from Afghanistan is beyond heartbreaking for the Afghan community in Australia. It is shocking and tragic. We have our families, friends, and relatives living there now and we are all in disbelief at how fast the country has fallen. Everyone in Afghanistan is shocked and lost. They don’t know what to do and where to go for their safety. We, the Afghan community in Australia, feel hopeless and numb to this situation. We are worried about what will happen to our loved ones at any given moment in Afghanistan. What will it take for the Australian government to give us permanent protection and for us to be reunited with our families? I am grateful to so many Australian friends, advocates, and organisations who stand with us in solidarity. Thank you so much for listening to us, empowering us to raise our voices to politicians, and advocating with us for our loved ones in Afghanistan. I don’t know if the Australian government will listen to our pleas, but I hope people in the wider community will join us in our efforts. Any and every little action that you are taking gives hope to the Afghan community.”

As we continue to live with the day-to-day challenges in our own context of lockdown and increasing rates of COVID-19 infection, let us continue to keep the Afghani people in our prayers and support them through our engagement with our elected leaders, advocating for a more humane approach to the Afghani diaspora in our community.

Thank you for your generosity to our recent appeal in support of the work of JRS Australia. I was advised earlier this week that the Riverview Community had donated $23,014 to support the work of JRS Australia. Alma Gatica, the JRS Philanthropy and Development Co-ordinator, said “We are deeply grateful for your wonderful and longstanding support of JRS and the people we serve. Thank you!” As you know, we were unable to host Jesuit Mission’s 70th  Bazaar last weekend. Thank you for the wonderful response to the Jesuit Mission appeal launched on Wednesday this week. If you have not yet had an opportunity to donate and would like to support the life-giving programs and emergency assistance that Jesuit Mission provides,  you can donate here. I look forward to sharing the result of this appeal with you in the coming weeks.  On behalf of my Jesuit brothers, JRS Australia and Jesuit Mission thank you for your generous support of vulnerable people within our city and across various parts of Asia and Africa. I have been deeply moved and consoled by the generous response of so many within the Riverview Community.

We also continue to pray for our Year 12 students and our accelerant students and their families as they continue to undertake their HSC Trial Replacement Assessment Tasks at home.

Wishing you all strength, courage, hope, and energy at this difficult time.

Fr Tom Renshaw