Palm Sunday has traditionally (so I?m told) been a day on which Christians marched through the city for peace.
Quite why this point on the Christian calendar was chosen for a peace march I?m not sure. Perhaps it marked the peak of Jesus? influence on the society of his time and was therefore a good occasion for Christians to be sending political messages to their own society.
More recently, Palm Sunday has been 'hijacked', or perhaps just borrowed, by a range of other (no doubt worthy) social causes, and while the title Palm Sunday remained, the gospel values behind it were no longer explicitly expressed, in what became a secular event. In the last couple of years some more activist members of the Church felt it was time to reclaim some of the Christian elements of the day without completely segregating themselves from the rest of the peace movement.
So it was agreed to hold two events, one explicitly Christian, and then join together to march and hold a festival.
I was employed by the Victorian Council of Churches to do much of the organising of the services and liaise in planning with other groups. In 2004 the theme was broadened to include a variety of these other groups. It became a festival for peace, reconciliation and justice for refugees, in recognition that these are all related issues and cannot be treated separately.
This brought on board groups such as the Refugee Action Collective and ANTAR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) to combine with the church and union groups who?d been involved in previous years. This gave the occasion a very broad and diverse feel.
On top of this, we felt that people of other faiths should be represented, and so used the text from a Declaration made at Assisi by world leaders of faiths facilitated by the Pope in 2002.
Getting all these groups involved was not an easy task; each group has a different internal structure and set of protocols; just finding the right person to speak to was not always easy.
Then each has different expectations for how the day will proceed, and these all have to be negotiated and reconciled.
In the end though, the day went off, more or less without a hitch. Musicians from a variety of cultural backgrounds were appreciated by all, and we could not stop them dancing late in the afternoon.
It was a day of hearing the stories of refugees, calling for peace and practising reconciliation, a day of community advocacy and fun.
James Tonson is youth development officer for the VCC.
Photo: Kim Cain, Uniting Church Peace Signs at Palm Sunday Rally ? February 2004