March 2011

Harmony Day calls us to be Good Samaritans

As we celebrate Harmony Day on March 21, an initiative that promotes community harmony, builds relationships between people and addresses racism where it occurs in Australia, Good Samaritan Sister Pauline Coll suggests we look to the parable of the Good Samaritan with its dangerous invitation to go to places beyond known frontiers.

BY Pauline Coll SGS

Archbishop John Bede Polding founded the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 1857. The Gospel story that Polding chose as inspiration for this new congregation was that of the Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. His desire was that the sisters “imitate the charity of the kind Samaritan” in the parable.

Parables call us to other ways of seeing and of living a Gospel life – a life of service to the marginalised and poor – after the example of Jesus. American biblical scholar, Robert Funk, suggests the story of the Good Samaritan is about new frontiers! We resonate with the fear and trepidation that can grip us when we are asked to go to the known frontier and then step into the new lands where danger and even death might lurk.

But it is only by crossing into the unknown that the fear can be dissipated as we come to understand and appreciate what we find there. After all this is what Jesus was invited to do – to go in fear and trembling to the frontier of the cross and discover what was beyond.

Today we live in a rapidly changing world where social media facilitates the rise of the oppressed, the poor and the downtrodden. This is evident in the present social revolution in the Middle East. In Australia we have seen how the use of such media can aid people endangered in floods, cyclones and fires. In Christchurch people trapped under tonnes of rubble have used mobile phones to call for help beyond national or geographic borders. Such technological advances certainly challenge us to be ‘Good Samaritans’ with an expanded worldview choosing new ways of knowing and acting as demanded by the parable.

As we approach the national celebration of Harmony Day on March 21 – also the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – we are challenged to embrace the Parable of the Good Samaritan with its dangerous invitation to go to places beyond known frontiers.

History tells us that Australia has always been multicultural. For 40,000 years or more, before the coming of Europeans, there were different cultures among our Indigenous peoples. Sadly, after 1788, through ignorance and fear, their presence was largely hidden, ignored or, as a people they were ‘used’ as commodities. In cities they were kept outside the boundaries of where ‘white’ people lived. This gave birth to the many “Boundary Streets” in our cities. They were also ‘stolen’ in an effort to eliminate their difference.

Explorers and travellers from many nations visited before 1788. What began as the official movement of peoples to Australia in that year has continued in many ways. Many of the first Europeans came under duress. They all arrived by boat! Later, people travelled by boat or aircraft.

Migration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries occurred for several reasons. Some people came for the golden wealth discovered in parts of Australia. Others came from war-torn countries and great poverty seeking a new life. They brought with them their different cultures and national identities, and were welcomed and accepted (or not) in a variety of ways. This movement continues today. Initially the White Australia and Assimilation Policies of earlier Governments promoted conformity and even uniformity; this stance was exacerbated by the accepted social reality that ‘white’ and ‘Christian’ were superior.

During the first two centuries, significant State cultures gradually built up and are still apparent. They have contributed positively and negatively to the ‘Australian’ culture.

Multiculturalism as fact is occurring through our increased awareness and acceptance of humans of different skin colours, religion and dress. One has only to walk down any city street to see evidence of this and recognise an exciting mix of people.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan continues to ask us to cross into unknown and perhaps undesired places where people are very different from us. We are challenged to cross into a belief that diversity is good and that each person, regardless of sex, colour, language, country of origin or religion, is a particular revelation of God.

We will be poorer if we do not cross this frontier. The journey requires a change of heart and mind – a true conversion. Let us celebrate and encourage the small steps each takes to cross this frontier and together journey further into the parable.

Pauline Coll

Good Samaritan Sister Pauline Coll has a background in primary and secondary education. She was a founding member and chair of Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH). She has also worked with the Catholic Religious Australia Queensland (CRAqld) Social Action Office where her area of responsibility was the environment. Her great passion is for ecological spirituality.

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