|POPE FRANCIS AT LAMPEDUSA YESTERDAY|
But the phenomenon becomes deadly earnest when we move into the realm of ideas and religious teachings.And when the modern belief system of Political Correctness is interwoven into the argument it can get downright nasty. As Australia runs down to a Federal Election within months a typical issue revealing such a divide is a hot topic : "Boatpeople".
We are not alone in this. Many countries around the world are under similar pressures often from "boatpeople" literally , or in other geographical situations, from people breaching their borders over (or even under) land.
The Holy Father Pope Francis ( using a new Pastoral Staff of very modern design and conception , produced by Lampedusan artists) yesterday went outside the Vatican City State for the first time as Pope to visit the small island of Lampedusa one of the Sicilian Pelagie Islands, which has become a regular arrival point for "Boatpeople" in Italy.We are told that very many of the would-be arrivals die when their boats are lost at sea. As he completed his journey partly by boat, the Holy Father cast a wreath into the sea in their memory. He later celebrated Holy Mass on Lampedusa on an Altar crafted from the wreckage of some of the boats.And celebrating the Mass using the Option " for the forgiveness of sins"he preached an emotionally very powerful Homily.
Here is a part of it :
"'Cain, where is your brother?'. The illusion of being powerful, of being as great as God, even of being God Himself, leads to a whole series of errors, a chain of death, even to the spilling of a brother's blood! God's two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever. How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live … we do not take care of that which God created for all of us, and we are no longer capable even of looking after each other. And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
“'Where is your brother?' His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others, it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they sought a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found only death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here."
His Holiness went on to develop the theme suggesting that everybody seeks to avoid responsibility,whilst implying that everybody shares the responsibility:
"The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalisation of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others, it doesn't affect me; it doesn't concern me; it is none of my business. The globalisation of indifference makes us all 'unnamed', responsible yet nameless and faceless."
And again :
"Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?' Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – 'suffering with' others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!"
This is powerful rhetorical stuff, especially when compounded with all the heavy symbolism surrounding the occasion.
Some might question the leap from the deliberate murder by Cain to establish a parallel with modern Western societies receiving illegal immigrants.
The springboard for our obligations towards strangers is made specific in Hebrews 13:2 where we are enjoined to offer hospitality to strangers.And, throughout Christian history it has been a constant theme and practice of Christian Charity.
But what about Australia?
Here in Australia, at the end of the Earth, one might think that we might be far removed from the reach of "boatpeople" unlike Italy with its
" boot" stuck out into the Mediterranean, and Africa and the Middle East on its "doorstep".
But not so. People smuggling is a lucrative trade operated by conniving money grabbing criminals , greasing the palms of corrupt officials in Third World countries and preying on those eager to advance themselves . So what image of Australia are we to have? A walled up palace, occupied by those "insensitive to the cries of other people" and living in "soap bubbles"? What does Australia do for the international needy?
Australia spends $5.2 Billion Dollars per annum on Foreign Aid which is about 1.4% of the Annual Budget and amounts to $ 4.50 per week per man, woman and child. This is about 0.35% of Gross National Income about half the level proposed to nations by the United Nations.The aid is confined to Asia and Oceania.Around 20% of this aid goes to Indonesia and another 20% to Papua New Guinea.
Australia takes in 190,000 migrants in the current year or approx. 0.8 % of the present population.Australia accepts 20,000 Refugees each year and current plans are to increase that figure steadily to 27,000 within 5 years. Applications from people wishing to come to Australia are processed systematically and many folk wait several years to gain entry.
Many others would come if they could, but are discouraged by the cost and administrative task.
Then again, there are those who arrive illegally, both " boatpeople" and others arriving illegally by aircraft.These are people who are characterised as "queue jumpers" a distinctly pejorative term in the Australian culture. Anyone who seeks to "jump" a queue - that is to say, sneak ahead of their rightful place in a waiting line-up is likely to get rough treatment in Australian society and is certainly despised.Government figures on refugees and illegal immigrants (in fact the present Government seems not to recognise such a reality)seem to be presented in such a way as to hide information rather than provide it.This is Political Correctness in operation. It just does not do to use the term "illegal immigrants" they MUST be refugees!
We do know that more than 50,000 people on well over 700 boats have arrived as illegal immigrants during the present Government's term in office to date. An average of 100 more people are arriving every day.We do know that some hundreds have died in boat sinkings despite the very best efforts of the Royal Australian Navy to render assistance.
TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE
Here is where our two types of people come in . There are those who see every one of the illegal immigrants as a " refugee". And then again there are those who see only "illegal immigrants" The first are likely to be inspired by the Holy Father's emotional rhetoric and the second are likely to be rather more sceptical and to wonder where regular emotionalism of this sort might lead.
Just as it is said that it is better to give a man the means to produce food than to keep giving him handouts, many would see it as being desirable to address the causes and operation of the people smuggling trade, rather than stirring up emotional responses to its results.
It is patently obvious that at least here in Australia , the community is truly alive to the plight of "boatpeople" and the community is supporting them with Social Services assistance once they arrive, plus accommodation, welfare,even spending money and healthcare etc etc, all at great expense not reflected in our Foreign Aid spending.
It would not be honest to present a picture of Australians as indifferent to their plight; but that sympathy does not mean that we should necessarily act in such a way as to reward rogue behaviour. Very many of these people are in no different circumstances from those of the patient law-abiding poorer people who wait their turn in the administrative queue. And no more at risk than the many, many poor people in Asia,South America and Africa who would come here if only our conditions were more suitable.
Why should we be urged to reward rogue behaviour by people able to pay large amounts of money to absolute villains, with privileged conditions not enjoyed by those who are law abiding?
The issue here in Australia is not a simple good versus bad moral question.
As a nation Australia is doing a great deal to assist the poor internationally and a great deal to assist migration legally and to endure illegal immigration even beyond what is fair and reasonable.
When it comes to Government, emotionalism makes bad policy.And when it comes to Religion emotionalism has its prudent limits. The characteristic of Catholicism that has served the Church through 2,000 years has been Faith and Reason . Abandonment of Reason for simple emotion might be the style in the American South for bush Baptist preachers . But what are to be its limits in the Catholic Church?