The neighbour in our midst
When things are not right with us and the world, and especially the Church, it is easy to lash out at those closest to hand – the priests. Certainly, some of them will have a lot to answer for before their Maker, but most of them are good men, trying to do their best in difficult circumstances, often with little support from those within their pastoral care.
The National Council of Priests held its biennial convention in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago, drawing more than 110 priests and five bishops from 23 dioceses around the country, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ambrose De Paoli. Throughout the gathering the priests focussed on positive experiences of their ministry; their giftedness and the core values of their work and lives. While not denying the difficulties and frustrations, they gave attention to what encouraged them and supported their conviction in what they do.
Under the theme, “Imagining Pastoral Leadership”, the NCP also recognised two examples of pastoral leadership in the local South Australian Church.
The first award went to the pastoral team providing care and support to the refugees and asylum seekers held in the Woomera and Baxter Detention Centres. One of the co-ordinators, Sr Anne Higgins OLSH, who was recognised earlier this year for her work and leadership by being made a member of the Order of Australia, accepted the award on behalf of all the pastoral visitors.
The second commendation presented by the NCP Chairman, Fr Ian McGinnity, went to The Otherway Centre – the Catholic Aboriginal Ministry in Adelaide. Fr Tony Pearson, who has been involved with the centre since its inception in 1980, accepted the commendation on behalf of all the workers and volunteers associated with the centre. As he accepted the award he presented Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ with a prayer mat, a gift from the Baktiari family who had received much support from St Ignatius College while the Bishop was its headmaster. Fr Pearson has recently been to Afghanistan and visited the family while there.
In announcing the commendation to the pastoral team providing care and support to the refugees and asylum seekers held in the Woomera and Baxter Detention Centres, Fr McGinnity praised the many people who have been faithful in standing firmly against practices that are inhumane, unnecessary and contrary to Gospel values. Firstly, Woomera, and now Baxter, have come under the pastoral care of chaplains (ecumenical), pastoral associates and many lay people, including Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) which has branches in these areas.
“Like the widow in the Gospel who, by her persistence moved the master to compassionate action, these people have found this a sobering ministry of love of the stranger/neighbour in our midst,” he said.
Bishop Eugene Hurley (of Port Pirie, the diocese in which both detention centres have been located), Cardinal George Pell, Bishops Joe Grech, Chris Saunders and Hilton Deakin and Frs John Murphy, Peter McArdle and Frank Brennan SJ were praised for their ongoing support, encouragement and visitation of the centres.
Fr McGinnity said that “this toxic time” needed “ritual closure through a process of transparent redress and reconciliation”.
In making the presentation to Fr Pearson, representing The Otherway Centre, Fr McGinnity recalled that the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry began on August 24, 1980.
From the Otherway Centre in the Adelaide CBD, and relying largely on donations and volunteer workers, the ministry provides a chapel and a drop-in centre for 70 - 150 clients each weekday. Visitors include the Indigenous, homeless and vulnerable, refugees, former prisoners, and the most impoverished and needy of society. The ministry offers tea, coffee, some food, a warm greeting and other assistance.
For more than six years the centre has been involved with Afghani Refugees offering them resettlement and support services through an Afghani refugee support worker. It has also worked with Sudanese and other African refugees for more than 25 years.
Other services include: a pastoral care service, a work for the dole service, a community service programme of volunteers, and home visitation and well as welcoming school student visits where students learn of the centre’s work and gain a better understanding of Indigenous culture. While some of these services receive some Government funding, the centre is reliant on its own fundraising efforts and the Christmas Appeal conducted in many of the churches.
Fr Tony Pearson was chaplain when the centre began, and apart from a few years under the guiding hand of Fr Mark Nugent CP, he has been associated with the centre throughout its existence.
Congratulations and thank you to the many people associated with these organisations that represent the Gospel in action and to the National Council of Priests for acknowledging their ministries of care of people on the margins.
May it encourage the rest of us, wherever we are, whatever our ability and capability, to reach out in care and concern and love to those in need.
Blessings on a caring week.
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