So hi, it’s been over a year since i posted anything on here, and I’ll get to my trivial shit at a later stage. Here, though, i have the words spoken at the funeral of Leo Seemanpillai. I don’t need to say a lot more- it was a catholic funeral, it’s obviously aimed at a religious audience, but it speaks i think to our nation as a whole.
At Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai’s funeral at St Mary of the Angels Catholic Parish in Geelong last week, Tamil Dominican priest Father Pancras Jordan of Pax Christi, flew down from Brisbane to lead the service. He received spontaneous and resounding applause during the funeral service for his powerful, profound and very moving Homily which he has kindly agreed we can share far and wide. See attachment and below. With thanks, Father Pan, for your strong compassion and courage to speak out so strongly at Leo’s funeral. May others follow your example.
“Dear Friends This afternoon we are gathered to say thank you and to say good bye to our beloved brother and friend Leo Seemanpillai who was killed by the harsh, unjust and cruel policy of our government. We are also gathered to pray that our brother, who shared in the sufferings of Christ, may rise with Christ in his resurrection.
Penitential Rite- Lord, we ask your pardon for our ignorance of the plight of the refugees in our country. Lord have mercy.
Lord, we ask pardon for the way in which our country has contributed to the wars in other countries that have produced so many refugees. Christ have mercy.
Lord, we ask your pardon for our poor response to those children, women and men locked in detention centres within our country. Lord have mercy.
My dear friends, We find ourselves, again and again, heartbroken for the individuals and families destroyed by our political games: a political game whereby people are slowly broken in a system of indefinite detention that dehumanises and disempowers; a political game whereby people are locked in the limbo of legislated poverty that is life on a bridging visa. We find ourselves, again, despairing for the Australian character, being shaped by leaders who normalise cruelty, vilify voiceless people and rob the world’s most vulnerable people of not only their rights, but their dignity. “The current Government Policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation,” The Australian Catholic Bishops announced in their May statement on the issue of Asylum Seekers. They proceed to say It is a policy of ‘dehumanisation’ and ‘institutionalised cruelty’. There’s no doubt that Australia’s clear message to people fleeing tyranny in our direction is “You are not welcome here.” This is unambiguous. Current policy is not about creating an “orderly system” or “saving people from drowning”. Billions of dollars are being spent on making people’s lives in detention centres and in our communities – as miserable as possible, in the hope that they will return home and convince others not to head in our direction.
Our government is actively inhospitable, proactively brutal and intentionally determined to break the spirits of people like Leo who once imagined they might find protection from oppression in our care. In a nation committed to unwelcome, with a government committed to cruelty, compassion is protest and welcome is rebellion. So, during this Eucharist I imagine that Leo would be calling us for an uprising of decency, an insurgency of hospitality, an insurrection of humanity, generosity and kindness. I am sure Leo would be inviting us to mutiny. To disobey the order to fear, unwelcome, rejection of asylum seekers and to oppose the wishes of our leaders. But this isn’t a call to arms, to take over the streets with righteous anger and clever placards. While our leaders have determined to hurt asylum seekers until their spirits are broken, and to convince every persecuted person on our planet that asylum seekers will not find safe refuge here, then every act of compassion is protest. A message of welcome is rebellion. It’s time to make a stand. It is time to consider the Australia we want to live and the values which we wish to exemplify. It is time to not merely march against brutality, but to embody hospitality and kindness. To not only rage against injustice, but to model welcome as a lifestyle. We are all called to live as the embodiment of an alternative future for our nation. A future where leadership is measured by the enhancement of human dignity, where diversity is celebrated and every human being is considered equal and deserving of fairness and freedom. Every time you welcome an asylum seeker in your community, every time you make a new friend, or help someone settle into their empty house, or write a postcard to a child in detention or help someone learn English, you’re defying the vision and instruction of our leaders. You’re saying, “welcome” to those they wish to reject – and you’re combating the insidious invasion of heartlessness into our character and communities. And so, in this nation where compassion is protest and welcome is rebellion, we’re asking you who are here, to join us by spreading a simple message of welcome through every suburb, street and home.
Most recent public opinion polls show that a significant majority of Australians support the harsh policies of the present government towards asylum seekers who come on boats. I know of no recent survey of attitudes in the Australian Catholic or Christian population towards the same issue, but it cannot have escaped us that the current policies have been put in place by a government led by a Catholic (and former seminarian) who wears his faith on his sleeve, and that the Minister for Immigration lists “Church” as his favourite hobby in “Who’s Who”. An Australian MP, making his maiden speech in Parliament in 2008, said, “From my faith I derive the values of loving kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…’ That MP was Scott Morrison, the architect of Australia’s present inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. His words were an accurate representation of Christian teaching; his current actions betray that teaching, whatever he might claim. This same Scott Morrison, so insistent upon compassion and kindness in his maiden speech, is the same Scott Morrison who in 2014 chooses to ignore his faith’s values, when announcing Leo’s death at a recent press conference, by choosing not to refer to Leo by his name, but as an illegal maritime arrival (IMA).
Let me reflect what went wrong with Leo. He wrote notes about visits to doctors and counsellors. He wrote reminders to take his Olanzapine (an anti-psychotic) and Fluoxetine (an anti-depressant). In September, he detailed part of one bad week: ”Thursday – I have no sleeping Friday – bad dreams, darkness Saturday – I sleep 3 hours Sunday – my birthday”. This government was in power at that time. Furthermore Leo would call refugee advocates, asking if he would be sent back. In October he learnt what Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had told Australians: ”Anyone who may have come from Sri Lanka should know that they will go back to Sri Lanka.” These words of Morrison made Leo sick in his soul. Later in his journal he wrote: ”If I’m deported back to Sri Lanka, torture is certain because I’m a Tamil” and ”In the midst of rejection stand tall. Life is hope.” Over the summer of 2013/14, he struggled. In February he checked into a mental health facility and, while there, he tried to hang himself with a towel. In March he moved into a flat above the Barwon River, and chose the small back room because it had the best natural light. ”He was afraid of the night,” said Cathie Bond, a volunteer and de facto mum to Leo. ”I gave him my grandson’s little night light. He said it was like a shiny moon.”
Leo fretted about his fate, and joined Amnesty International and the Australian Red Cross believing membership could somehow help him stay. He went to church on Good Friday and kissed the Holy Cross: ”I asked Jesus to bless me, and to bring a resolution to my past struggles and to not have any more struggles in the future.” Outwardly Leo was upbeat, visiting friends and calling people. The day before he died they said he sounded ”happy”, ”brighter” and ”more alert than he had in a long time”.
My dear friends, for us who work in the area of pastoral care we know often when someone is contemplating suicide they appear to be “happy” because in reality, they have made the decision to end all miseries. They feel a sense of freedom and in the case of Leo, freedom from all cruel policy and denial of fundamental human rights. In the Gospel today we heard what astounding and wonderful things may take place when strangers and refugees are welcomed and given hospitality. “I was a stranger and you welcome me” (Mt.25:35). This passage is part of the parable of the judgement of the Son of Man coming in glory. The astonished people who are gathered around the throne of the King did not realise at the time that they showed welcome and hospitality to their Lord himself and they voice their amazement. Thus, the criterion for a Christian believer to enter eternal life is based on welcoming and rendering hospitality to strangers. The Christian believer therefore encounters their Lord in the stranger. It is by the way one treats the poor and the stranger that one’s worthiness to enter eternal life is tested.”