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Tuesday, 24 September 2013 13:32

New missionaries reap benefits of acculturation programs

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Divine Word Missionaries who arrive in Australia from overseas countries soon find themselves plunged into an acculturation program that aims not to strip them of their own culture, but to immerse them in the Australian culture, while confirming them in their own.

The programs have been carried out in the Australian Province for about 30 years and in recent years have also been in demand beyond the Province, with dioceses and other religious orders who are inviting overseas priests and religious to serve in Australia.

Provincial, Fr Tim Norton, says acculturation is about the meeting of two cultures and is fundamental to providing a sound foundation for ministry in a new country.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time in the SVD,” Fr Tim says. “In fact, we’ve been doing it since the institution of the SVDs. Our founder, St Arnold Janssen said there was a need for foreign missionaries to go out to other places and be with other people and share the Gospel with them.

“As a very multicultural religious congregation and certainly in the Australian Province, we’ve been talking about acculturation seriously, academically and practically, for about 30 years and it’s very much a part of our life. It’s getting a stronger focus all the time.”

Fr Tim says that after a period of settling in, new arrivals to the Province are gathered together and receive input on the whole idea of culture and of cultures coming together. They are then exposed to information on Australian history, church history in Australia, indigenous history, Australian spirituality, the movements of urbanisation and migration, population, demographics, the secular environment and professional standards. English language tuition is also a priority. 

Similar acculturation programs are run in other areas of the AUS Province, such as Thailand and New Zealand.

“There is a whole lot of evidence, especially from the United States, showing that the more resources people have with language the better they are at ministry,” he says.

“And the more time and resources put into acculturation, the better they are at ministry. And it is all based on the idea that the deeper I get into this culture, the more I understand my own culture.”

The acculturation programs aren’t all academic in nature. Over the years, Fr Tim, with the help of friends, has also introduced the new arrivals to Australian sports, accountancy lessons and dinners in a family home, where couples talk to them about marriage and family life in Australia.

Fr Boni Buahendri, the Formation Director and Acting Rector of Dorish Maru College in Melbourne, is responsible for the acculturation programs for the junior professed members of the SVD, and says he believes such programs are crucial.

“This type of program is very important for young missionaries and students who are new to Australian society,” he says.

“It is important because Australia is a multicultural society. It’s about more than language. You need to have a basic understanding of the culture in Australia, especially the demands and expectations of the culture here.”

Fr Boni says most young missionaries arriving in Australia are from Asian countries where the culture is in many respects quite different.

“One is not better than the other. They are just different,” he says. “And young missionaries need to know about issues of cross culture, without losing their own culture.

“In knowing their own identity and respecting their own identity, they can see clearly the differences and they are invited to accept the other culture as it is. It’s like a tree whose leaves can be changed every season but the roots remain the same and it’s these roots which help it to grow and flourish and bear fruit.”

Fr Boni says in the end, acculturation programs are all about helping missionaries to form good relationships in their ministry.

“It helps them to become good listeners,” he says. “If you start a good relationship you can change your attitude.

“Mission is not always about proclaiming the Word of God. It is about learning and listening to other people’s needs and being open to the mystery. In listening, God will teach me more and more about his Kingdom.”

This article was first published in “In the Word”, the e-newsletter of the Australian Province of the Society of the Divine Word on 29 August 2013.

 

 

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