Hundreds attend third annual migrant and refugee conference

Media Release, 10 December, 2012

Migrant Chaplains

Over two hundred people from around Australia attended the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office’s (ACMRO) third annual conference on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, held at St Patrick’s Campus of the Australian Catholic University (ACU) from 5-7 December.

Beginning with a day for migrant chaplains on 5 December, stories and pastoral experiences were shared under the biblical theme “I have heard them crying out” (Ex. 3:7)

All Nations Mass

An All Nations Mass was celebrated by Bishop Gerard Hanna was held at St Brigid’s Parish in Fitzroy and featured representatives from Colombia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Italy, Tonga, Samoa, Haiti, Vietnam, Lebanon, Portugal, Burma and the Philippines.

At the conference, with keynote speakers – including Richard Towle from UNHCR; Graham Thom of Amnesty International; William Maley from the ANU; Fr Aloysius Mowe SJ Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia; Paris Aristotle of the expert panel on migration; Paul Power of the Refugee Council of Australia; author Robin de Crespigny; Bishops Eugene Hurley, Vincent Long, Terry Brady and Gerard Hanna – themes such as mandatory detention; immigration policy and boat journeys were discussed and explained in detail by experts.

Bishop Vincent Long

Those who had lived the refugee experience also presented at the conference, including Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Long, who spoke of his own journey to Australia by boat from Vietnam in 1983.

“It is estimated that of two million Vietnamese refugees who fled the conflict, 500,000 perished in the pursuit of freedom. It is something that we will never forget, and my episcopal motto is “go further into the deep” for this reason, as a testimony to my experience and my commitment to the refugee issue”, he said.

“Every time I hear the mantra “stop the boats”, I shudder, because those of us who came to Australia by boat from Vietnam see that this country is founded on the downtrodden, that this is our history. Our country is about giving a fair go to the underdog. We need to look to the broader context of justice and solidarity.”

Sr Rosa, Anna and Sr Ann at the ACMRO conference

Bishop Eugene Hurley of Darwin also shared passionately on his experiences of meeting with people during his time as Bishop of Port Pirie up to today, often inside detention centres such as Woomera, Baxter and Curtin.


‘I don’t like to talk about the boats, because when we talk about the boats, we can dehumanise the issue. We can easily forget that there are people in those boats whose stories we don’t know”, he said.

Sudanese migrant chaplains

Director of the ACMRO Fr Maurizio Pettenà CS was pleased with the number of people who came to hear such a wide variety of perspectives on the situation for migrants and refugees in Australia.

“From presentations by Catholic bishops to committed religious and lay people who have been working tirelessly for the rights of migrants and refugees, we heard testimony of how Australia has been so greatly enriched by migration.  This said, we have also been able to learn and understand more clearly how the politics of fear have damaged our image as a welcoming nation. This has been sobering, challenging but essential”, he said.

For media requests or to arrange an interview please contact Beth Doherty on 0407 081 256 or email your request to