No room at the inn


15 Dec 2014

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it’s useful to go back and look at the readings about the holy family: A humble family making a long pilgrimage to Bethlehem in Judea for the Census, and then unable to return home due to threats to their lives. Their welcome into Bethlehem – much like the arrival of asylum seekers on Australian shores – was not a warm one.

As a migrant to this beautiful country, which I have called home for the last 22 years of my life, I have reaped the benefits that Australia has given to my family and me. I arrived in Australia when I was five. I am from a Vietnamese Catholic family. My father was a “boat person”, a “refugee”, an “asylum seeker”, all the “nice” terms we have labelled people in such circumstances.

He was also a practicing and devout Catholic; a genuine refugee that was forced at a moment’s notice to leave everything he knew.

Australia prides itself on being a country that is built upon Christian foundations. In many ways, we still see that, although comparative economic security and wealth has made us cold and indifferent to the reality of most other countries in the world. The era where we witnessed a compassionate Australia was after World War II, and peaked during the mass exodus of Vietnamese people. These people fled their war-torn homelands to settle in a country that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go.

Today is a little different.

Under the scrutiny of the United Nations, the Australian government is developing some of the most draconian refugee policies in the western world. And no amount of letter-writing, protesting or pleas from the people are making headway into changing their minds.

Every year our Christian political representatives, including our Catholic brothers and sisters attend Christmas celebrations. How is it that they do not hear and contemplate the reality of the Christ-child, who became a refugee  How is it that they do not hear and contemplate the reality of the Christ-child, who became a refugee at just a few weeks old?

How is it that the words “no room at the inn” do not penetrate their hearts? Our Christian politicians, in their dogged determination to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat have dehumanised and neglected to see Christ in them, and they have failed to live out their Christian obligations.

Their reaction to people, and as we have seen in the news, even young babies, has been nothing short of criminal, as weekly they look for new ways to deter people, many of Middle-Eastern appearance. What hope would the Christ-child have if coming to Australia in 2014?

It has been inspiring to me to see the way in which numerous Christian leaders have prayerfully demonstrated at the offices of Australian politicians across the country, for some, resulting in their arrest. In these weeks, I have read the stories of a 75 year-old-nun and a 30-year-old nun, both on charges of trespassing after praying at the offices of a senator and a minister respectively.

It is my hope that as we reflect on the words of the readings during advent and Christmas, that Christ might be born again in our own hearts, and propel us to speak out for justice.

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