Bendigo Catholics Stand in Solidarity with local Afghan Community


r0 376 4032 2643 w1200 h678 fmaxThe Catholic parish of St Kilian’s in the centre of Bendigo opened its Church hall for the use of a group from the local Afghan community to hold COVID-safe prayer vigils in response to the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. Bendigo and its surrounding area is home to about 300 Afghan-born individuals and families.

Two of the parish priests, Fr Junray Rayna and Fr Robert Galea, joined with the local Afghan community in prayerful solidarity. Having met with leaders of the Afghan community in Bendigo, Fr Junray said, ‘Many cannot speak English, so I have relied on a number of community leaders to communicate. I was grateful to join them in prayer in their own language here in the Church hall.’

Bendigo Catholics have concern for the people in Afghanistan and those who reside locally, many of whom are on temporary protection visas and cannot be reunited with their families. Fr Junray said, ‘What we can do at this time is reach out to our neighbours and be in prayerful solidarity with them.’

‘The Catholic community here was very willing to share our hall’s space, and it has been good to meet members of this wonderful Afghan community who live in central Victoria and are supporting each other through this time.’

Afghan refugees who are here on temporary protection visas, due to current policy parameters, cannot bring their family over via humanitarian channels. The peak body for Catholic social services in Victoria has issued a statement of support for a compassionate and just approach, and has urged a change of policy.

‘We admire the contribution and proactive efforts of the Afghan community in Australia and so, in this difficult time, we acknowledge the pain of the situation among the Afghan people,’ said Joshua Lourensz, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Victoria.

‘Catholic social services across the state are willing to do more should the Government’s policy change and allow the families of those 5100 temporary visa holders in our communities to come here. Small acts of solidarity are occurring in many different ways across the country— this example of practical solidarity by St Kilian’s parish and community spirit is a great example of the kind of welcome that we hope the Australian Government will take notice of.’

‘While the Australian Government continues to withhold the ability to apply for humanitarian family reunification for this cohort, this places their lives and families in a tenuous situation. With the situation in Afghanistan fundamentally changed, Australia’s policies also need to fundamentally change.’ 

Though the latest lockdown has prevented further gatherings at the Church hall, Fr Junray said, ‘We will continue to pray for all Afghans, both here and around the world. We think and pray particularly for those who are here now but are separated from their families.’