Finding Freedom, Seeking Hope – Refugee Week 2024

Mercy Light: Connecting

A quick internet search of the word ‘hospitality’ will deliver this definition or similar: “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers; the business of providing food, drink and accommodation.”

Hospitality, in its context as one of St Aloysius College’s core values, invites us to welcome others with the same spirit of Mercy that Catherine McAuley did during her lifetime, which was nearly 200 years ago. It is as needed and as relevant today. The people Catherine extended the warmest welcome to were those persecuted by social, environmental, religious and economic prejudices.

Hospitality in the context of Mercy means much more than simple gestures of friendliness, generosity or entertainment – and it’s certainly more than an offering of food or drink. Mercy Hospitality nourishes mind and soul, extending a spirit of welcome, compassion and hope to all in need. It offers a sense of belonging to a vibrant, diverse and kind community. Being a Mercy school, SAC’s history of welcoming the stranger is a long and proud one.

Refugee Week, recognised each year worldwide, is an opportunity for SAC to celebrate the resilience, courage and hope demonstrated by those forced to flee their home country or escape conflict and persecution, and especially those who belong to our own community.  Held between June 16 and June 22 this year, SAC students with a particular interest in supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and learning about the issues they face, led several activities that promoted awareness, conversation, creativity and reflection.

In collaboration with people who have lived experience as refugees and asylum seekers and others who work in this space as supporters and advocates, students and staff in the Justice and Mercy (JAM) Group organised these engaging initiatives.  

Two symbols, being a kite and a backpack, were thoughtfully chosen to reflect the theme of Refugee Week 2024. The kite represents freedom and hope, and the backpack represents courage and empathy.

Dialogue and story-sharing were at the fore. On the evening of Wednesday 19 June, five JAM students and several staff attended a public forum hosted by Justice For Refugees SA and Circle of Friends at the Effective Living Centre in Hyde Park. At this event, an SAC Old Scholar and her mother bravely shared part of their story of coming to Australia, having fled persecution in their home country, and some of the challenges they’ve faced resettling in Australia. Both women expressed deep gratitude for care and support their family has received in Adelaide from a number of community groups, including St Aloysius College. In the mother’s words: “We were told that we would never be able to stay in Australia, but I hope to have secure permanent residency or citizenship, ensuring stability for my family and me. Australia is now my home; it’s where my heart is.” Mother and daughter expressed their gratitude for girls’ education, with our Old Scholar sharing her dream to one day serve our community as a nurse.

This event was followed on June 20 with World Refugee Day. Sister of Mercy and Senior South Australian of the Year, Meredith Evans was the one who invited SAC students and staff to attend the public forum, and generously gave of her time to visit SAC and facilitate a conversation about it with the JAM group. Meredith encouraged the students who attended to share their reflections.

Year 12 JAM Co-Leader, Caitlin Surynt, voiced admiration for individuals, like Meredith, who work voluntarily at grassroots level as advocates for displaced peoples.

“I was inspired to hear about people who had written letters to Immigration [department] when they were moved by the story of one particular family seeking asylum. They sent so many letters that they were eventually listened to by the right people and their simple actions had an impact, and that family was able to come to Australia,” Caitlin shared.

Grace Campbell, Year 12 JAM Co-Leader, wholeheartedly agreed.

“The idea of people in Australia coming together to support a family in need from the other side of the world, and bring them to safety in our country – the pure generosity of people, and the compassion – was very inspiring,”

Meredith was encouraged by these insights, reiterating ,“The message here is very clear: don’t ever give up and think, well, I’m just one person so what can I do?’ We can all sit around with our hands in our laps thinking ‘this is a terrible situation’. But we are called to help and try to make a difference.”

This is the essence of Mercy. When Foundress, Catherine McAuley, first begun her work in Dublin, she walked with the people in need, gave care and comfort, and importantly, she was a present listener to their needs, their stories. Then, she offered practical support, in any way that she could. Mercy calls us all to act. Hospitality – which starts with something as simple as a smile – is a significant first step.

Ms Maddie Kelly
Marketing & Communications Team | JAM Coordinator