St David’s Cathedral, Hobart, held a Memorial Service at 4pm Friday 28 February. Here is the address I gave during the service:
This memorial service being held for Reza Berati, killed on Manus Island, is motivated in part by the fact that a number of the members of the Kelisa congregation of this Cathedral Church, being from the same region in Iran as Reza Berati, are acquainted with his family.
We want to support our brothers and sisters, communicate our sympathies to the family, and show our broader support for refugees.
FIRSTLY, I have no hesitation in expressing our heart-felt sympathy to Reza Berati’s family. We weep with them.
Reza Berati’s death is a tragedy of immense proportions and our heart goes out to his family and to the refugee community.
Reza Berati’s death holds sadness and loss because death is invariably sad and a loss, and this is the loss of a man in his youth.
But Reza Berati’s death is a tragedy because he had fled to us for refuge from death to life. But instead of life with us, he encountered death through us.
We offer our sympathy because we are saddened at his death.
We offer our sympathy in sorrow and shame because his killing occurred within our walls.
SECONDLY, we are saddened because initially we did not know Reza’s name. He was an ‘Illegal’. We commoditised him, took his humanity. Now that we know his name we can attribute to him his humanity. God knows Reza, (Psalm 139: 13 NIVUK)
For you (God) created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
We are known by our Creator and our Creator knows us by name.
We remember also those who have drowned also without name. The asylum seeker issue is not open to easy solutions but sending people mad by not processing them on Manus Island and being surprised when they consequently riot, just as a deterrent to other asylum seekers, cannot be the only plan. We are part of one world family. We are neighbours. In the same way that Jesus challenged a lawyer in his day (I’m referring to the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10), so Jesus challenges us today: ‘Will you be neighbour?’
THIRDLY, we are challenged because we declare we will continue to sing, “Advance Australia Fair”, though through choked tears. We will work for compassion, generosity and hospitality.
In 2003 I co-authored with artist Gay Hawkes in the Tasmanian Exhibition ‘Future Perfect’. We called our contribution, DINNER FOR STRANGERS.
Gay Hawkes made a quilt edged with painted faces of people from all over the world and a spiral of biblical texts proclaiming hospitality and generosity.
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the stranger (alien), the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the stranger (alien), the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the stranger (alien), the fatherless and the widow. (NIV)
What is the message of this scripture? – Generosity and hospitality! This was, is and will be our message.
On the opening night of the Exhibition, Gay Hawkes and I set a table in a North Hobart Restaurant with our table cloth, and we ate a dinner with people from various continents: ‘Dinner for Strangers’.
Gay Hawkes and I produced this artistic contribution because we are convinced that generosity and hospitality lie at the centre of our understanding of our treatment of the vulnerable, of the fatherless and the widow, of strangers and exiles, of refugees and asylum seekers.
As former refugee and co-awarded Hobart Citizen of the Year, Fayia Isaiah Lahai, said last Sunday at a candlelight vigil, (The Mercury, page 10 24 February 2014):
“We are here to mourn the loss of a human being who came to seek refuge, who came to seek protection, who came to the shores of Australia because he believed he could get salvation from the people of Australia but unfortunately he is no longer with us. . . . Asylum seekers are coming (to Australia) because they are running away from something that is beyond their control, war and persecution.”
In our land today there is a contest in our hearts between tight-fisted fear and generous hospitality. Together, we proclaim victory for generous hospitality!
I continue to pray that more and more people will come to learn that asylum seekers, our fellow human beings, need love, kindness, generosity and caring, not detention.
IN CONCLUSION, may the family of Reza Berati receive our sympathy; forgive our inhospitality and lack of generosity, the death of their son.
May we embrace asylum seekers and refugees as brothers and sisters.
May we embrace one another in our shame and sorrow.
In the name of a Palestinian refugee to Egypt; Jesus Christ. Amen.
*Details of the,
Audio of my sermon along with Farsi translation by Christopher Boudi is here: http://saintdavids.org.au/sermon/2014/02/sermon-memorial-service-reza-barati/
Memorial Service: http://saintdavids.org.au/event/2014/02/memorial-service-reza-berati/ and flyer: http://saintdavids.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Flyer.pdf
I pray that something good, something of God, will shine out of this sad and shameful and completely unnecessary death. Well said, John. Powerful words that need to be heard.
The audio of the Sermon is at http://saintdavids.org.au/sermon/2014/02/sermon-memorial-service-reza-barati/
Also note the more recent spelling of Berati to Barati.