Friday, July 17, 2009

In response to the violence against international students

photo from 'Crosslight'.
from w
In response to the violence against international students in Melbourne, an interfaith gathering was arranged at Box Hill Uniting church. Here are some notes from a report about this experience from the Uniting Church website.

Interfaith gathering of prayer for peace and harmony

People of many faiths met together on Sunday afternoon, 5th July 2009, to show their support for Indian and other overseas students. The gathering of 150+ people at Wesley Uniting Church, Box Hill (Melbourne), was a response to recent events where Indian students living in Melbourne have been threatened, attacked and racially vilified. The gathering provided an opportunity for leaders of the Hindi, Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities to offer prayers for peace. The gathering was also addressed by the Chief Commissioner of the Victoria Police, Simon Overland, and the Moderator of the Uniting Church's Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, the Rev Jason Kioa.

The gathering was an initiative of the Uniting Church's Hindi Fellowships at Blackburn North and Dandenong co-convened by the Rev Dhirendra Narayan and the Rev Chris Meneilly. Chris Meneilly, in stating the purpose of the gathering, explained that as the Indian (and other international) student community feels isolated and afraid, it is important that an opportunity be provided to show that faith leaders and the wider community are supporting them in this time of uncertainty. Also, it’s a unified statement of peaceful support of a community which respects the rights of its citizens and wishes to pray for peace and harmony.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland expressed his concern at recent events and stated that brutal attacks which are racially motivated are completely unacceptable in the Australian community. He pledged the Police Force's determination to work towards a society where we value one another and in which racism has no place. He noted that he regularly meets with community leaders of many ethnic groups and that he encourages them and the Force to continue to work together for peace and harmony.

Moderator Jason Kioa shared the story of his own experiences of coming to Australia and being locked up at a migrant detention centre. He stated that the acceptance of many nationalities in our multicultural nation is fundamental to the way our society works. He reminded the gathering that such acceptance, and our responsibility to live in peace and harmony, is enshrined in the words of our National Anthem, particularly in the second verse:

"For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair."

During the gathering, leaders of Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Sikh faiths offered prayers for peace and harmony. Despite the differing faith backgrounds, each prayer had striking similarities: acknowledging our dependence on a God who wishes the best for the creation; and challenging us to see one another as equals, all being part of a community which values peace and respect.

A musical group sang Bhajans (Hindi religious songs) within the service, each calling upon God’s love and that we share that love for others.
The music did add to the special nature of the gathering and it was not a problem that the words could not be understood by everyone. The music was an important component of creating an atmosphere of calm and reflection.


Text written by Geoffrey Willis, member of Mountview, Mitcham UCA.


Additional notes from Chris Meneilly:

Another great aspect of the occasion was the relaxed atmosphere and people mingling easily, taking advantage of the opportunity to chat with the Chief Commissioner simon Overlandand his wife Barbara.

To close the service a young Indian student, Ms Ravinder Kaur said, “…thank you to everyone who spoke and prayed” and “that while we live, study and continue to reside in Australia, this country for all of us is our home”. She was very warmly applauded! At the afternoon tea people took seriously the opportunity to deliberately speak with people from communities different than their own, folk they did not know.

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