St Paul’s Cathedral in Bendigo, in the Australian state of Victoria, is displaying an artwork depicting crucified migrants in the run-up to Easter. The cathedral’s Dean, John Roundhill, said that he hoped the exhibition would “challenge people at this Easter time to make a deep connection between events 2,000 years ago and the plight of refugees in our world today.”
The sculptures were created by the Revd John Tansey, a minister in the Uniting Church in Melbourne, and have been loaned to the cathedral for the display.
“We are pleased to host the artwork in part because St Paul’s has advocated for refugee rights for a number of years,” Dean Roundhill told ACNS. “A sizeable portion of congregation are former refugees.”
The striking sculptures include a child and a pregnant woman. They have been named Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island – the locations of Australia’s offshore detention centres for asylum seekers.
“There are still children being held in offshore detention centres although now far fewer than in the past,” Dean Roundhill said. “This has been an issue that has galvanised many churches and other agencies to advocate for them.”
The Dean explained that it was the Australia’s policy of detaining child refugees in off-detention centres that galvanised him into action. “Back in 2014 I was still a new Dean and I was phoned by someone I did not know at the time to ask if I might lend a hand with [refugee campaign] Love makes a way,” he said.
“I had not protested before in my life and I when I put the phone down I wondered if I were not to advocate for children in off shore detention what would I ever advocate for. It was in the end one of the easiest decisions I have made.”
The cathedral has been targeted groups opposed to its advocacy. It has appeared in a far-right video and banners that say “Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees” – displayed by many cathedrals and churches in Australia – have been stolen twice.
But this has not deterred the cathedral from its advocacy. Dean Roundhill says that “the congregation are in good heart and growing.”