The price of democracy

“You can stay, but you will have to sit in the corner and not say anything, or record anything that goes on. Understood?” I nodded and sat on the chair in the corner of the room, like a naughty child. It was an interview room in the Department of Immigration and I was there to support two asylum seekers who had been ordered to attend a meeting. What followed was harrowing. I felt powerless in the presence of two cold, efficient officials who accused the asylum seekers of attempting to conceal their true identities. 

It was true that they had fled Iran, where they had been involved in anti-government protests. As it turned out, they had concealed their identities to protect family members back in Iran. The investigation had been thorough and without any compassion. They had been spied upon and had been betrayed. Officially, my friends were just numbers in a government database, and eventually, after failed attempts to be recognised as refugees,  non-citizens in the “lucky country.” 

For the past ten years, asylum seekers who have come by boat have been treated unjustly. Referred to as “illegal maritime arrivals,” they have been subjected to mandatory offshore detention and most have been denied refugee status. And during the same period, the number of asylum seeker and refugee advocacy groups has increased significantly, signalling a call for compassion for people seeking asylum in Australia. The lacklustre approach of government agencies in response to this call is unjust. It is un-Australian.

In his first lecture in the 1950 Godinne Lectures, Fr Joseph Cardijn urges us to “… believe in the personal value of every human being, in the personal dignity, the personal mission, the personal vocation and the eternal vocation of every human being.” The principle espoused by Cardijn is the dignity and equality of every human being as children of God, the very principle under attack in our culture on so many fronts, including the unjust treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.  

The Gospel reading for today, Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time (Year 1) is the story of the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13). Peter, James and John have a foretaste of heaven as Jesus is transfigured before them. The story is part of the journey they make to Jerusalem and represents Jesus’ triumph over the evil of his crucifixion. Mark recounted his Gospel to the Gentile Christians in Rome to urge them to place their hope in Christ in the face of persecution by Roman authorities. Just as they were denied the freedom to live and worship God in peace, so, too, are many who seek asylum in Australia denied the right to live in peace in the community and to call Australia their new home. 

So, how do we bring about change in our society, so that asylum seekers and refugees can be members of our society? There are attempts made in federal parliament to have the government change its policies and to act with compassion. There are also attempts made by community groups and organisations to convince the government of the need to clean up the bureaucratic mess enshrined in laws passed by successive governments to control who can be members of our society. If we accept Cardijn’s view of the human person, and if the transfiguration of Christ is to have any meaning for us, then we have to find a voice to speak on behalf of those who are powerless to speak. 


Pat Branson

Read more: 

Fr Joseph Cardijn: The Person, Family and Education – the 1950 Godinne series of lectures: Lecture 1: The Human Person

Let us make man in our image

In today’s first reading (Genesis 1: 20 – 2:4), we find the passage: 

…God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’ 

…God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God, he created him, male and female, he created them. 

Cardinal Cardijn made this clear to young workers.  

“Young workers must always be faced with the great truth of the eternal destiny of the mass of young workers. How often have I cried out at mass meetings: You are not machines, beasts of burden, slaves; you are human beings, with an eternal destiny, a divine origin, a divine purpose. You are sons of God, partners with God, you are heirs of God; this is true, not only for a select few but for the masses and the whole of the working class, without exception.” 

Cardijn (1945) A YCW of the masses to the scale of the world


The world today is better than it was in the past. Despite the systemic environmental degradation, the quality of life of billions is improving. Yet, billions are also suffering. 

The abundance of God’s creation is insufficient for the wants of many. This imbalance between the desires of a significant population against the needs of others desecrates and violates the truth that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God. 

Pat’s reflection on 4 February 2023 captures this imbalance in rich and abundant Australia.


Do I/we believe in today’s first reading — that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore we are all equal no matter what our station in life is? 

Do I/we believe in Cardijn’s exhortation that we are not machines, beasts of burden, slaves … to employers, to consumerism, to materialism, to an ideology…

Do I/we believe that i/we are children of God, partners with God, and heirs of God? 


If I/we believe in today’s first reading and in Cardijn’s exhortation:

  • What could I/we do not to become a slave to an employer, to an ideology, to consumerism, or to materialism? 
  • What could I/we do to help those suffering from injustices that deprive them of their humanity?

Systemic, sustained and shameful: the exploitation of workers

He sat across from me at a table in the cafe and as I I listened, I recognised his concern for his friends from overseas, who had come to Australia to study and had to work excessively long hours to pay for the privilege of studying here. He was looking for funding to provide food for his friends so that they would not have to work so long each week. 

Is it possible that these young workers are being exploited? In March, 2022, the Senate Economic References Committee examining unlawful underpayment of employees, tabled a report into the unlawful underpayment of migrant workers in Australia. They described the problem as “systemic, sustained and shameful”. The report highlights weaknesses in the laws intended to protect workers from exploitation by employers. While the government fails to act, migrants (including asylum seekers and refugees) can become enslaved in our country. 

The problem has existed for as long as society has existed. Cardijn identified it as a product of liberalism. In 1949, he presented the Godinne series of lectures titled The Young Worker Faces Life. In the third lecture on the “mystery of vocation,” he made reference to the working class being in “the tomb of error, exploitation, and slavery in which liberalism buried it for centuries.” The release from that tomb is a struggle. 

This is not what God intends for people. The Exodus story reveals God’s plan for people to live freely and to ensure that the goods of the world are there for all people to use and for all generations to come. The attitude that we must bring to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity is revealed to us in the Gospel reading for Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1 (Mark 6:30-34). Mark shows us the compassion of Jesus, who places the needs of others, in this instance, the needs of his apostles and the needs of those who wanted to learn from him, before his own needs. 

All this suggests that we need to have a radical change of mind and heart. We are not put on this earth to acquire as much as we possible can. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to others and to God, to use only what we need and always with an eye on the needs of others who will come after us and the intention to provide for the future. So what action can we take and encourage others to join in doing to ensure the end of exploitation and slavery of workers in our country and in the world? 

I suggest the following as a course of action: Read the report prepared by the Senate Economic References Committee and use social media to encourage others to read it also. Then choose one aspect of the report and the recommendation(s) flowing from it as tabled in the report. Write to your local member to urge them to argue on your behalf for action to happen now, not later. There are probably other and better actions to be carried out to bring about the change that is needed in peoples’ minds and hearts. If you are certain of this, then consider writing a reflection to be posted to this page on the Joseph Cardijn Digital Library website. 


Laurie Berg and Bassina Farenblum: Australia is bringing migrant workers back – but exploitation is still rampant 

The Senate Economics References Committee – Unlawful underpayment of employees’ remuneration

The Young Worker Faces Life – Joseph Cardijn Digital Library

The Most Holy Name of Jesus and the human person


  1. What do we mean by dignity?
  2. Do we know how dignity is attained, preserved, defended, promoted, and universalised? 
  3. Do we experience dignity in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our civic/public spaces, or in cyberspace (online)?
  4. Does the promotion of dignity for some diminish it for others? 


  1. Today the Church celebrates The Most Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus’s birth, life and death are the antitheses of dignity.  He was born to a people – the Jews – that were under occupation and oppressed (by the Romans). He was born out of wedlock (Mary was engaged but not married to Joseph, when Jesus was conceived). He was the son of Joseph, the carpenter. His passion and death – from the scourging to the crucifixion on the cross – was beyond undignified. It was dehumanising. Yet, His Name is Most Holy. 
  1. This is also an important lesson that Cardijn asked us to remember – that we protect our dignity, and the dignity of others. 

“…The boys, the mass of boys and men, as well as girls and women, must learn, through missioners and apostles, to reflect on their dignity and their value. Girls and women, above all, demand that this dignity be respected far more than men, particularly by men.”

Adapted from “Person, family and education – Lecture 1 – The human person.”

  1. This year (2023), the world will commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) emphatically states that human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings. They are not granted by any state!  These rights are universal and inherent to everyone, irrespective of nationality, ethnic origin, gender, colour, religion, language, or any other marker. The UDHR includes the rights that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health and liberty. 


How do I protect my dignity, and how do I promote the dignity of others? 

New Year 2023 is a time for resolutions.

  1. I resolve to be more respectful of my loved ones, e.g. no snide remarks. 
  2. I resolve to be more respectful of my colleagues at my workplace, e.g. genuinely listen to those I may not like and consider their inputs honestly. 
  3. I resolve to be more respectful in my online interactions, e.g. understanding that because the person is not before me, there is a significant loss in communication (70% – 93% of communication is non-verbal).
  4. I should not be quick to judge. 
  5. Find ways to promote the knowledge of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Greg Lopez

About me!

I am a lecturer in management at a university in Perth, Western Australia. I learned about Cardijn first through the Young Christian Students (YCS) at school and then more deeply through my interactions with Stefan Gigacz. There is so much that Cardijn has to offer, hence my interest in seeing how Cardijn’s teachings can be helpful to me and anyone interested in making the world a better place (one step at a time).


Joseph Cardijn, Person, family and education – Lecture 1 – The human person (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)