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Liturgy for refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people

Geraldine Martin |  20 May 2015


The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1067 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as: Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?
An Asylum seeker is a person who is seeking protection as a refugee and is still waiting to have his/her claim assessed.

The Refugee Convention definition is used by the Australian Government to determine whether our country has protection obligations towards asylum seekers. If an asylum seeker who has reached Australia is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under International law to offer protection and to ensure that the person is not sent back unwillingly to a country in which they risk being persecuted. 


1) Three students who are willing to read ‘Seeking Refugee Status’.

2) Bowl with sand and

3) Three tapers or candles to be lit by the students during the response to the video.


Leader: Lord, we are your gathered people, coming together to be one with refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons whose lives have been dislocated by war, famine, and injustice. By our presence we express our solidarity with them in their search for a new life, a new home, and a new promise. We also remember all those who may have come to our school from refugee camps around the world.

All: Lord clear our eyes that we may see the suffering of the refugee, asylum seeker and displaced person. Open our ears that we may hear the cries of those deep in despair. Release our feet that we may walk on paths where we may spread some comfort. Unloose our tongues that we might speak your words of hope and love. Give us open hearts that we may be truly hospitable to the stranger in our midst.


(Two students are seated at a desk covered with papers, discussing refugee cases in an office in Egypt.)

Voice: We are now to visit some official in an office in first century Egypt.

Official 1: (Yawning and stretching.) How many more? I want to go home.

Official 2: Only one more and that’s it for the day. It is a family. A man, woman and child.

Official 1: Country of origin?

Official 2: Israel.

Official 1: What’s their plea?

Official 2: Seeking refugee status here in Egypt because of persecution and death if they return to their own country.

Official 1: Papers?

Official 2: None.

Official 1: What sort of persecution? Religious, Political?

Official 2: Political. They claim their son’s life is in danger. He will be killed if they return home.

Official 1: Who are these people? What’s the man’s occupation?

Official 2: He’s a carpenter.

Official 1: And the woman?

Official 2: None. She’s just a wife and mother.

Official 1: What about the boy? How old is he?

Official 2: Difficult to say. About 2.

Official 1: And who’s going to kill him?

Official 2: The King, Herod.

Official 1: Herod? Any facts to verify this?

Official 2: Again difficult to say. The child was born in Bethlehem and our contacts have mentioned an alleged incident there where all boys under the age of two were allegedly killed. But we haven’t been able to verify it with the authorities.

Official 1: So how did these people escape?

Official 2: The man, Joseph, said he had been warned to leave prior to the incident…

Official 1: Warned? They had inside information? Who from?

Official 2: He said he was told in a…dream.

Official 1: Dream! Rubbish! He knows more than he’s telling us. He must have contacts somewhere? What about her?

Official 2: Mary? She’s harmless enough.

Official 1: Harmless, my eye. What sort of parents would take a young child on such a hazardous journey across those inhospitable deserts?

Official 2: I don’t know. Maybe people who are desperate?

Official 1: Their story sounds pretty thin to me. Anyone to corroborate it? Have they got any money? I bet they haven’t much money. Probably spent it all getting here. They must have had money to have got this far.

Official 2: I don’t know. He says he’s a carpenter. And he’s willing to work. 

Official 1: Carpenter? They work in wood. Great! Look around you. How much wood do you see? Are the pyramids made of wood? Are the tombs of the Pharaohs made of wood? Stone cutters are what we need.

Official 2: He could possibly adapt his skills.

Official 1: And put our own people out of work? I guarantee he’ll expect the Egyptian people to support him. And you say he has a woman and child with him. And we know why they came along?

Official 2: Because they’re a family?

Official 1: You are so naïve. They add sympathy to the plight! These people just bring the wife and kids along to add to the occasion – like you do to a dinner. Look, I don’t like this. There are plenty of other countries closer than us they could have gone to. Why did they choose to come to Egypt anyway?

Official 2: I don’t know. Perhaps because it’s safe.

Official 1: I’ll tell you why. They just want to share the economic benefits of our country. These people are here solely for a better life. Persecution. What garbage! They should accept their lot in life and live in their own country. They’re just queue jumpers, illegals, probably criminals. They should have waited in line like everybody else, gone through the correct channels and been processed properly.

Official 2: The correct channels are often slow. It may take years. Besides if the king is threatening your life, you’re hardly going to apply to him to leave the country, are you?

Official 1: I don’t care. I have the backing of the Egyptian people on this. By the way what’s their religion?

Official 2: They’re Jews.

Official 1: I knew it! Jews are troublemakers. We don’t want them here indoctrinating our people with their religion. Before we know it they’ll be taking over our country. Listen. Let’s get this straight. These people have arrived on our doorstep - illegally. No papers, no money, no proof or record of persecution. I see no reason to grant them refugee status. Send them back to where they came from. We have no room for any more illegals in this country.

Official 2: What about the threats? We know what Herod is like.

Official 1: Threats! What sort of threat would a young boy be to King Herod? We must send a strong message to these people that Egypt is not a soft touch. Send them back to where they came from. Who cares about them? They are only peasants. It’s hardly as if this one child will make a difference to the world, is it?

Voice: Let us never forget that Jesus was once a refugee.  

(Adapted from a play by Noelene Martin, August 2001)

A reading from Leviticus 19:33-34
Theme of Hospitality

Reader: ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

The Word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Play: ‘Song for Refugees’ ‘I am so Weary’ by Cliff McAulay (Could be played from a CD or downloaded.)

Three students will go up to the altar or table and light a taper for each response and stand it in the sand in the bowl. 


Leader: It is the will of God that no one should go away hungry or thirsty.

All: It is the will of God that all who ask will be received.

Leader: It is the will of God that none should be driven out of their homes and communities.

All: It is the will of God that Christ’s love be available to all the world. 

Leader: It is the will of God that we should be light to a waiting and broken world. 

All: It is the will of God that we love the world as Christ has loved us. 


Leader: Let us pray for refugees and displaced people throughout the world.  Let us pray for those who have fled from ….. and who are in……or other parts of the world. 

Leader: Wise and compassionate God, help us to bear the burdens refugees and asylum seekers carry and not simply seek to shift the burden on to others.  We pray to the Lord.

Response: Christ have mercy on them and us, your people.

Leader: We pray for our leaders and call them to justice, generosity and compassion. Help them create and implement strategies that are fair and just and treat refugees and asylum-seekers with dignity and care.

Response: Christ have mercy on them and us, your people.

Leader: God, our comforter, we ask you to comfort the broken-hearted and protect the vulnerable in Australia. We pray to the Lord.

Response: Christ have mercy on them and us, your people.

Leader: We pray for those who live in fear of detention and removal, for those who are in detention at this time and for those who face removal to an uncertain future. We pray to the Lord.

Response: Christ have mercy on them and us, your people.

All: God bless our eyes so that we will recognise injustices.
God bless our ears so that we will hear the cry of the stranger.
God bless our mouths so that we will speak words of welcome to newcomers.
God bless our shoulders so that we will be able to bear the weight of struggling for justice.
God bless our hands so that we can work together with all people to establish peace. Amen.

Photo: Don O'Brien; Flickr


Topic tags: refugees, australianidentity, politicsandreligion, prayer+liturgyandthesacraments

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