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Thursday, 04 August 2011 05:13

Ministries take new directions

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As well as presentations on the changing face of religious life from missiological, theological and biblical perspectives, CRA's 2011 National Assembly included snapshots from a number of leaders on new directions in their ministries and congregations.

In particular, Father Steve Curtin SJ spoke about the Jesuits' work with refugees and asylum seekers and Sister Annette Arnold RSJ reported on the Sisters of St Joseph's ministry with indigenous Australians.

Sister Annette outlined how the Josephites have been exploring ways of strengthening their ministries with indigenous Australians at a time when many Sisters involved are ageing.

She said that following a working party review, the Sisters are proposing establishing a new entity that would be in partnership with other congregations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  The Sisters of St Joseph, the Sisters of Good Samaritan, the Mercy Sisters and the Brigidine Sisters are all willing to pursue this new way of commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Other congregations at the Assembly, particularly the Christian Brothers, also expressed interest in being involved.

Sister Annette said their aim has been to establish a sustainable way of maintaining their commitment into the future so that they can offer a multi-disciplinary approach to healing the trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

"We want to do this through an explicit focus on building the capacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders and by working towards long-term sustainable community development.

"As individual Sisters leave specific ministries, it is very difficult to replace them; and yet the congregation desires and is committed to strengthening the work," Sister Annette said.

"By creating a single-focused entity that is jointly owned by several congregations with a common vision, we believe will be better able to commit to long term ministry with indigenous Australians."

Father Steve Curtin SJ said that while refugees and asylum seekers was not a new ministry for the Jesuits, in recent years there has been a whole new level of professionalism and policy experience in the area.

This has included Religious representation on government committees including Mercy Sister Mary Anne Loughry, Associate Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), who is a member of the Australian Government's advisory council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution.

"We have built on the vast experience of the many Religious who worked in refugee camps overseas in the 1970s and 80s, and we are responding to new problems in creative ways and with much more professionalism," Fr Steve said.

He said most congregations in Australia have something to do with refugees and asylum seekers.

"They have a wonderful passion for this work and they are doing an enormous amount in detention centres across Australia."

Father Steve also spoke about the Shelter Project being piloted by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) supporting families and unaccompanied adolescents.

As well as being a new work, the Shelter Project involves collaboration between a number of different religious orders including JRS, Marist Youth Care and the Mercy Sisters.  The Shelter Project also works closely with the Asylum Seekers' Centre (ASC), Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul Society, The House of Welcome and the Archdiocese of Sydney Justice and Peace Office.

Father Steve said it was particularly important to provide care and support for the young people that arrive in Australia on their own as they are very traumatised.

Another snapshot led by Father Tim Norton SVD and Sisters Bernadette Edgecombe SSpS looked at new ways congregations are supporting Religious coming to Australia from overseas. They also discussed the whole area of multicultural community living.  Other workshops explored working with lay people and processes that have assisted congregations in establishing public juridic persons (PJPs).

To illustrate one congregation's experience in setting up a PJP, Sister of Charity Annette Cunliffe provided a video presentation with interviews with the initial five Trustees of Mary Aikenhead Ministries on what had been the most satisfying thing about being a Trustee of Mary Aikenhead Ministries at its very beginning.