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Thursday, 04 August 2011 02:32

New program welcomes overseas Religious

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Eighteen Religious women and men from Oceania and Asia gathered in Melbourne on the June long weekend to take part in Catholic Religious Australia's (CRA) 'Welcome to Australia' program.

The purpose of the program was to welcome, enable and integrate overseas Religious to Australian culture, ministry and life. The CRA initiative was in response to a growing concern among congregations of a need to better support Religious coming to Australia for study, formation and ministry.

Held at the Janssen Spirituality Centre, Boronia, the three-day program involved members of the Redemptorists, Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), Salesian Sisters (SMA), Holy Spirit Sisters, Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, Christian Brothers, Daughters of St Paul, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Pallottines. The women and men taking part came from Fiji, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Thailand, Tonga and Vietnam.

The program was coordinated by Geraldine Kearney SGS, Tim Norton, SVD and Noel Connolly SSC, who all have significant experience of living and working overseas.

"The people taking part knew when we started talking that we know what they are going through," says Noel Connolly. "We can explain things that are happening to them such as culture shock because we have experienced it too.

"Culture is so deep in us that it hides things from us that we can't see," says Noel.  "Everyone says water has no taste until they go somewhere different."

Designed to encourage maximum involvement from the participants, the opening night began with the spiral of diversity - a series of colourful cloths made into a spiral. As each person walked by the spiral they introduced a symbol from their culture and added it to the spiral.

They also took part in a number of interactive activities including 'The Play of Life', led by Sister Geraldine which is psycho-drama technique where participants use miniature figures and objects to create a theme on a small stage.

"They had to put themselves in Australia and show the challenges, surprises, similarities and shocks," says Geraldine. "It is a great conversation starter and gets the creative imagination going and crosses language barriers."

The participants also enjoyed performing their national dances, and cultural elements from all the different countries were included in liturgies.

There were also presentations on topics such as culture and cultural transitions, cross-cultural communication and discussions on the implications of entering another culture. As well, Carmel Crawford, Mercy Ethos Coordinator - Melbourne, spoke on the place of women in Australian life and Church. Angela Ryan CSB discussed boundaries and professional standards for Religious, and Mary and Michael Shaw and their daughter Alisha spoke about family life in Australia.

"They were a very enthusiastic group," says Noel, "and there was a marvellous spirit over the whole weekend.

"They learnt more about Australian culture, which will be really helpful because if you don't understand local culture it is difficult to speak with any relevance.

"The discussions we had also helped them to understand things that are happening to them, such as culture shock, which can be strange and perplexing for some, but very depressing for others. So the program was good for their own personal happiness which enables them to be better ministers in Australia."

Other benefits were opportunities for networking and learning from each other.

"They were happy being together and got a real sense that we cared about them," adds Geraldine.

She says a program like 'Welcome to Australia' is something that is really needed.

"Both Australians and people from overseas have to face the gift and the challenge of multiculturalism in Australia by learning more about each other and appreciating the value of difference," says Geraldine.

"We can, with the help of each other, be stretched and strengthened by difference rather than being fearful. But until we have connections with people prejudices can continue. So we are called to 'a hospitality of the heart' to break down those fears and prejudices and get to know each other."

Catholic Religious Australia hopes to hold another 'Welcome to Australia' program in Sydney later this year. For more information contact Sister Veronica McCluskie at CRA on 02 9557 2695 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.