UPON hearing and seeing the distressing news coming out of Afghanistan last week, members of the local Afghan community gathered at a Bendigo Catholic church prior to Victoria's latest lockdown.
The Catholic parish of St Kilian's opened its church hall for the local Afghan community to hold COVID-safe prayer vigils in response to the ongoing situation in their country.
Two of the parish priests, Father Junray Rayna and Father Robert Galea, joined with the Afghan community in prayerful solidarity.
"Many cannot speak English, so I have relied on a number of community leaders to communicate," Fr Rayna said.
"I was grateful to join them in prayer in their own language here in the church hall."
He said Bendigo Catholics had 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.
'"What we can do at this time is reach out to our neighbours and be in prayerful solidarity with them," Fr Rayna said.
"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 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," Catholic Social Services Victoria executive director Joshua Lourensz said.
"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.
"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.
"With the situation in Afghanistan fundamentally changed, Australia's policies also need to fundamentally change."
Fr Rayna said the church would continue to support the community even through this latest lockdown.
"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," he said.
Bendigo and its surrounding area is home to about 300 Afghan-born individuals and families.
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