“Where is love?” A reflection by Fr Peter Smith

11 December 2019

Related: Advocacy
Fr Peter Smith pictured with refugee activist and author, Behrouz Boochani.

A reflection from Father Peter Smith, Justice and Peace Promoter for The Justice and Peace Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.  Throughout 2019, JRS Australia had the pleasure of working with The Justice and Peace Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. In November 2019, both Carolina Gottardo (JRS Australia Director) and Father Peter were part of a high-profile Catholic solidarity delegation to Port Moresby. Throughout 2019, Fr Peter Smith and Ruth Moraes (Research and Project Officer, Justice and Peace Office) have greatly supported JRS in our mission to promote conditions of dignify for people seeking asylum and refugees.

In the classic British musical “Oliver”, based on Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist” which first previewed in London’s West End in 1960, the title character sings a moving ballad: “Where is Love?”

Frightened, alone, rejected by the state and society in general, Oliver laments the hopelessness of his situation. Dickens satirises the hypocrisy of the time (serialised between 1837 and 1839) where children were abandoned to forced labour and denied support by those with wealth and power.

As the tune echoes in my head, I can’t but help thinking of our modern day Olivers, refugees and people seeking asylum, demonised by successive governments as “illegals”, “queue jumpers”, “terrorist sympathisers” etc.; in addition to systematically reducing financial support such as Status Resolutions Support Service  (SRSS) funds, to the extent that much of society has imbibed the rhetoric and so “normalised” the rejection of these most vulnerable people.

I can only imagine children and adults in untenable circumstances in Australia’s major capitals or languishing in Bomana prison and elsewhere in Port Moresby quietly thinking “Where is love?” As in the nineteenth century, so now, it is left up to charities and NGOs to show love, compassion, support and justice for those left behind. (Fortunately modern charities are more successful than in Dickensian England).

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has, since its inception in 1980, worked to bring justice to refugees across the world. Here in Australia they care for refugees and people seeking asylum by promoting their physical wellbeing with food, clothing and shelter, their legal and emotional needs through caseworkers and do advocacy work to reverse the injustices done to them.

You are reading this edition of Link because you are a valued member contributing to that process. To praise the wonderful work done by JRS people is almost redundant here as we all know and are grateful for their contribution. What does need to be said is “thank you” to them on behalf of not only the people they care for but from all in society who are glad that there is an alternate story being told to the government and media driven disparagement of those most deserving of our compassion.

As we approach the Christmas Season when we will once again recall the birth of the infant saviour, refugeed in Egypt, who is our ultimate hope and cause for joy; we should never lose heart. We also hope and pray that the hearts of governments on all sides (especially those who wear their religious belief as a badge of honour) will hear the voice of the Gospel of Jesus and the cries of the poor. When a refugee or person seeking asylum cries again “Where is love?” JRS will be there to answer “Here we are!”


Special thanks to Fr Peter. This reflection appears in the Christmas 2019 edition of JRS Australia’s LINK publication.