By Fr. Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia
Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.
I feel somewhat inadequate in addressing some of these questions because we do not face the conflict, violence and war that exists in other parts of the world. I first got involved in Pax Christi in 1998 towards the tail end of the Indonesian presence in East Timor, after its 1975 invasion, and the violence perpetrated by militias that were sympathetic to the Indonesians which created immense violence and destruction. At the time as East Timorese people engaged in hunger strikes in Sydney to call on the Australian government to send peace keepers to the country, Pax Christi joined the hunger strikers in solidarity outside the UN offices in Sydney by having a Eucharist (sometimes ecumenical) on the footpath each afternoon as people finished work and passed by to draw attention to the plight of East Timor. The intention was to continue this action until the government capitulated and sent peacekeepers to East Timor – which it finally did. This continued for some months as other organisations rallied for the same reasons.
In recent times, though personally involved with refugees and asylum seekers for 43 years, I have joined a movement called Love Makes a Way where people of different faiths gather non-violently at the office of a Government minister or the Prime Minister to protest the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in this country and detention of children, women and men in overseas detention centres. I have now engaged in six of these since April 2014. Four times, we were arrested for resisting these inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. The last time was in November and we now have to face court. We were arrested for ‘breach of the peace’. This movement operates throughout the country. The aim was to draw attention to the plight of children in detention but also to seek through prayer and witness to the challenges of Pope Francis and the Australian Catholic Bishops, the Uniting Church leadership and other denominations of the harm (violence) being perpetrated in our name. The publicity and support has been phenomenal. In all, Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Uniting Church, and Metropolitan Community Church denominations were represented in these sit-ins of prayer and song. Some may question such actions but these make up a long tradition of civil disobedience when it becomes imperative to standing again injustice in the community or in the church. It is not possible to just talk, and write but also somehow put one’s own body on the line and risk arrest. In recent weeks, the sanctuary movement has been revived by many churches to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers…