Mending lives burned and different

EditorialTomorrow is Ash Wednesday. For Christians, it's the beginning of Lent. But for Australians, it's also a time to recall the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. As Kylie Crabbe writes in this issue of Eureka Street, many people associate the day with bushfires only. Its mention, she says, evokes a hushed tone, for religious and non-religious people alike. The ashes of both have a disarming effect on us.

Today, the day before the beginning of Lenten observance, is the occasion for last-minute feasting. In many Christian countries, celebrations take the form of large-scale public partying known as Mardi Gras (literally 'Fat Tuesday'). They are set within a religious framework. However in Australia, the name Mardi Gras has been taken up by members of the gay and lesbian community, for their own month-long public party in Sydney.

Many still live in circumstances in which they feel themselves lesser human beings. This sense of inadequacy can often be traced back to school days, when they were treated as different. This difference is the subject of a recent Jesuit Social Services (JSS) study conducted by Fr Peter Norden, who quotes a Church document that insists all people must be identified by their status as a creature of God, and not by their sexual orientation.

Titled Not So Straight, the study is intended as a training document for school administrations wishing to be proactive in creating a non-discriminatory climate for what it terms same-sex attracted students. Such young people, Norden says, are over-represented in the group of young Australians that resort to self-harm or suicide. He found that the schools' Catholic ethos tends to be applied more successfully in the case of students with a physical or intellectual ability, or those from a diverse range of cultural and racial backgrounds. The former students who took part all said that more could be done to apply the Church's teachings and pastoral practice to the situation of same-sex attracted students.

Such students in Catholic and other schools live their lives on the edge, in much the same way as those whose lives were upturned by the Ash Wednesday bushfires, and Christians who voluntarily enter into a serious observance of Lent. In the end, they are often richer for the experience. The same could be said for refugees and others who must put their lives together after their experience of rejection. A good example, and indeed inspiration, is Sadiqi, the Afghan refugee circus performer profiled in this issue of Eureka Street. He was punished and put down in Afghanistan for his religion, and then in Port Hedland for being a boat person. But he's now fulfilled, a high achiever in his chosen fields.



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