On a number of Tuesday nights over the last few months, several staff members from St James College, accompanied by a number of young Lasallians, have been making the hour long drive out to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) facility which is located in the outer Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows.
The commitment from the staff to visit this Immigration Detention Facility is a reflection of the call from Matthew's Gospel, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me". (Matt 25:35) and it demonstrably lives out the words from the patron saint of our college, St James, who tells us "that faith without good works is dead". (James 2: 17)
Our visits run for two hours at a time and we arrive just prior to 6 pm to work our way through the daunting security checks that are in place to enter the detention centre. We have established many warm friendships with the detainees at this facility throughout the course of this year and we meet once more in the detention centre common room. We are warmly welcomed by name and offered cups of tea and coffee. We share food, have conversations, play some games and generally just provide a diversion from the dreariness of the detainee's day to day existence.
We see the joy in a young Muslim family as they enter the room to share an evening meal with their father. We witness anticipation as others await the arrival of a special friend or family member. We sit and listen to the individual stories that are told of the struggles facing the residents of this detention centre. Whilst we sense loss and some uncertainty in these stories, we also see resilience and hope as the detainees laugh and extend their hospitality towards us.
Our time allocation of two hours' flies by and all too soon our visits conclude. With fond farewells and heartfelt expressions of thanks from our friends in detention, we say goodbye. They tell us how lucky they are having visitors and thank us for giving up our time to visit them when in fact we are the ones who should be expressing our gratitude. We are the lucky ones. We get to go home after each visit!
What a privilege it is to be so welcomed into a community where we, as Catholics, are reminded of our responsibility to welcome the stranger who knocks at our door seeking refuge.
Religious Education Coordinator, St James College, Bentleigh East Victoria