Tribute to Bishop Joe Grech – Much Loved & Sadly Missed

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
15 Sep 2011

Bishop Christopher Prowse and Dr Graham Thom
of Amnesty International at the Inaugural
Bishop Joseph Grech Memorial Colloquium

A defender of the weak and vulnerable refugees and migrants to Australia, Bishop Joe Grech radiated the joy of his faith, the Bishop of Sale, the Most Rev Christopher Prowse said in tribute to the beloved prelate who died in December last year aged 62.

Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural Bishop Joseph Grech Memorial Colloquium in Melbourne last week, Bishop Prowse said there was something very special about Bishop Joe, as he was universally known.

“His Mediterranean expansiveness and character enabled him to relax people and bring a smile to their faces. Big hearted and totally open to the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, he was a man rich in humanity,” Bishop Prowse said adding; “Nobody could say ‘Alleluia’ quite like Bishop Joe.”

At the Colloquium, Bishop Prowse recalled how Bishop Joe had come to Australia as a migrant from Malta. As a migrant and with his genuine and profound Christianity, Bishop Joe could see Jesus in the fragility of Australia’s newest arrivals in their search for a home away from their country of origin, he said.

“Bishop Joe came here as a migrant, he served us as a priest and bishop, and he died as a defender of Australia’s refugees and migrants.”

As the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) Delegate for Migrants and Refugees, Bishop Joe frequently raised his voice in regard to the treatment of asylum seekers and in July 2008, praised the then Federal Government’s announcement that it would restrict the use of mandatory detention.

Migrants, refugees and new arrivals to Australia joined
hundreds of others for the Inaugural
Bishop Joseph Grech Memorial Colloquium

He was also a vigorous campaigner for the rights of those with disabilities and lobbied the Government to review immigration procedures in relation to people with disabilities.

“I accept any immigration scheme must be subject to rules and criteria, but to make a disability a reason for refusing a family permanent residency is not acceptable,” Bishop Joe said in October 2008 adding that although sadly it was the norm in our world for international laws and customs not permit people with disability free movement across borders, they should be given the right to settle in a country of their choice on equal terms with others.

Bishop Prowse praised the late prelate for his ability to see refugees and migrants with the eyes of faith and pointed out: “We are the descendants of the Exodus people of the Old Testament. We worship Jesus who, with his mother and foster father, became unexpected refugees when they fled from certain death and went into exile for a time in Egypt during King Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents.”

However, he acknowledged that today there was an unprecedented movement of peoples throughout the world. In this regard the Catholic Church held the principle both of a nation’s basic right to protect its borders AND the principle of affording every migrant and refugee to its shores respect and human dignity and protection of their human rights, he said.

Much loved Bishop Joe Grech

However polls and statistics of Australians’ views on refugees seemed to suggest the principle of border control had become the overwhelmingly paramount issue while the other principle of human rights of refugees was running a sad second, Bishop Prowse charged and said this needed to be remedied so there was a proper balance between the two principles.

But he cautioned against going to the other extreme so that the human rights of refugees completely overshadowed the importance of border control, saying this was a scenario that was naive and utopian that could have “dangerous consequences to our national security, and the peace we enjoy and treasure in Australia.”

“It is the paramount responsibility for governments to regulate border control on our behalf,” he said. “But when it is all about border control and nothing else, Australians become selfish and victimise refugees even before their incredible stories can be told. Migrants and refugees are human persons, most often vulnerable persons, who need our welcome and our help.”

Urging Australians to protect the human dignity of newcomers to our country, Bishop Prowse spoke of how Bishop Joe, through his life and his teaching, made a real contribution in “softening our hardness of hearts” towards refugees and migrants.

“We are so grateful for knowing him,” he said.