At the heart of the Loreto network’s engagement with refugees and asylum seekers are Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
With the support and encouragement of the Loreto Justice Network, the Sisters, schools, and Loreto ministries in general continue to participate in campaigns focusing on asylum seeker issues. Initially, their concern was for the more than 1000 asylum seekers detained on the islands of Manus and Nauru. As those numbers declined, attention shifted to the Murugappan family from Biloela. Taken from their happy and productive life in rural Queensland to isolation in Christmas Island, the plight of this family highlighted the innate cruelty of many of the Australian immigration laws. Students and staff in Loreto schools responded by writing letters to their local MPs calling for the release of this family into the community.
With fewer sisters living in the Normanhurst community, it was possible to provide a house for asylum seekers, and, with the help of the House of Welcome, families from Malaysia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan lived in the house until more permanent accommodation was found. A baby was born, children began school, food and recipes were exchanged, Muslim children excitedly decorated the Christmas tree, and the delights of Eid were shared with all.
Lockdown brought another set of asylum seekers issues. In Melbourne, Loreto Sisters and their friends marched in solidarity with the asylum seekers detained for months on end in hotels with little or no access to natural light or fresh air. While JobKeeper and JobSeeker provided support for many Australians, asylum seekers received nothing. The Loreto sisters, their colleagues, and students, wrote letters and donated to essential food banks while past students responded generously to requests for grocery cards.
In more recent times, the Loreto Justice Network collaborated with the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) campaign to increase the intake of Afghan refugees into Australia. Again sisters and students wrote to their local MPs, while others were involved in a letter and signature collection activity in particular electorates. Loreto Normanhurst students joined students from two local Catholic schools to produce videos calling on young people to stand in solidarity with their peers in Afghanistan.
Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA), in response to the ever-growing need of asylum seekers in Australia, funds two programs at the House of Welcome, co-ordinating the foodbank and providing accommodation for single asylum seeker women. Several Loreto schools employ asylum seekers through Empowered to Work and other organisations.
The network of Loreto Sisters, colleagues, students and friends continues to call for justice and compassion for asylum seekers because, as Pope Francis says:
we cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.