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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:15

Ministry move for Mercy Sister

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After a number of years in education including being principal of Mercy Catholic College, Chatswood, in the mid-1970s Sister Jackie felt it was time to "thrust out into the deep and work among the poor of the third world."

For her, this meant moving to Santiago, Chile and later to Lima, Peru, where she worked with the local women living in shanty towns on the outskirts of the two South American cities.

Following in the footsteps of her order's founder, she set up a Women's House in Santiago and with the arrival of two other Sisters of Mercy from Sydney the mission was further expanded with two more Women's Houses and a health clinic. Just like Catherine McAuley in poverty-stricken Ireland in the mid 1800s, Jackie and her fellow Sisters created places where the women could meet, share skills and have a break from their small, basic houses.  At the houses the women make a range of handicrafts which they sell and gain income to support their families and assist with their children's education.

Returning to Australia earlier this year, Sister Jackie is now 'thrusting out into the deep' working with asylum seekers through the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

During September and October, the 72-year-old spent six weeks at Curtin Detention Centre near Derby in the remote north of Western Australia where more than 750 Afghan asylum seekers are living.

"When Father Sacha Bermudez-Goldman, Director of JRS said we need somebody at Curtin, it emerged that the asylum seekers there were all men," says Jackie.

"I hadn't worked with all men before. In South America I had been working with women and children, but mostly women. Sacha said it would be good for a senior woman to be there. So I said yes."

During her time at Curtin, Jackie discovered a group of gentle, polite and reverent men.

"They are a prayerful people who were very appreciative of us being there," she says.

Working alongside Department of Immigration and Citizenship staff, her main role is visitation; being with the men and listening to them.

"You need an understanding heart and a listening ear, so that's really what I would say I am trying to do. This group had their applications for asylum suspended by the Federal Government in April this year so that has been difficult for them. They have begun processing their claims again but some have received negative responses."

While conditions have improved at the detention centre since it was reopened earlier in the year, Jackie says the lack of freedom weighs heavily on the men.

"SERCO, the people who run Curtin, try to not make it like a prison but it is like a prison because it is surrounded by four metre high walls with electric wiring.

"One man said to me, 'I have put up with a lot in my life, but the hardest thing is the lack of freedom, to be able to go where you want to go and do what you want to do'.

"When we start talking about their families, they become sad as most of them have wives and children who they have not seen for more than six months. They are all mainly Hazarai people, the minority group in Afghanistan, so while they can talk from time to time on the phone to their families, they worry about them."

On 10 December Jackie will return to Curtin accompanied by another Mercy Sister, Anne McDonald from Brisbane. The Sisters will spend Christmas there and stay for some months.

"It has been a good experience for me," says Jackie, "as I have met these people and come to understand a little of what they have gone through.

"Being in that part of Australia - the Kimberley - where God's creation is so beautiful has been a new experience. On my 45-minute drive back and forth from the detention centre, it's just God, the landscape and me."

She says the Church needs to continue its strong advocacy for asylum seekers - telling their stories, and their need to find a safe, peaceful place for their families to live.

"There is a lot of ignorance in the general population about asylum seekers, which is fuelled by certain politicians and the media so we need to keep advocating on their behalf.

"In my role at Curtin I can't really change anything but it is important for them to see that there are Australians who wish to see them live without fear and have a safe life and perhaps be citizens in Australia."

 

Pathways, November 2010

Have your say...

"Thankyou Jackie. I hope you are able to continue to keep us informed re the situation 'on the ground' at Curtin."
- Eileen Casey rsm, 22-11-2010

"Jackie it is great to have in you in the West even if very far away. Blessings must aboudn as you support the Curtin people "
- Joan Smith rsm, 22-11-2010

"Jackie, thanks for your contribution of Mercy to these men in Curtin... Geraldine M"
- Geraldine Mugavin RSM, 23-11-2010

"Jackie,thank God that we have a MERCY presence in that sad situation at Curtin.I am so grateful that you are to have a Mercy companion soon.A loving heart can work wonders."
- loretto kavanagh r.s.m., 24-11-2010

"Thanks,Jackie, for being with these vulnerable people. Your presence surely gives them some hope despite their entrapment in an inexplicably protracted process so isolated from the general community. "
- Veronica Lawson rsm , 24-11-2010

"Jackie, I'm so pleased to learn that yourself and also Anne will be in Curtin with the asylum seekers in these months as we approach Advent and Christmas.You will both bring a much needed presence of mercy into a place of isolation and hardship. "
- Margaret Moore rsm, 28-11-2010

"What a woman - like Catherine McAuley you are a woman of courage who is prepared to experience what it must be like to be 'imprisoned', cut off from family and lose freedom. God bless you and Anne, Jackie. "
- kate mc carthy rsm, 02-12-2010

"Jackie,God bless you for your work at Curtin. I'm delighted Anne will be joining. I shall keep you both in my prayers. b9dg5 bzdg5"
- Patricia Sullivan, 02-12-2010

"Jackie it has been an inspiration to meet up with you. Your presence in Curtin will continue a loving and listening heart to situations of dispair. Blessings of hope to you and your companion Anne as you step on the edge. "
- Margaret McGrath, 03-12-2010

"Thanks Jackie, your presence must give such hope to those whose lives you touch. "
- Elizabeth Moloney 2.12..2010, 03-12-2010

"Thank you, thank you Jackie and Anne. May you find a refreshing and cool spot in all your endeavours. "
- Irene Monigatti, 03-12-2010

"Jackie and Anne Thoughts and prayers to you both and to all you meet, especially during this time of waiting and the coming festive season. "
- Pauline Smoothy, 09-12-2010

"Jackie, it is really great that you are up in Curtin supporting the refugees - my prayers and blessings are with you and Anne at this Christmas season. "
- Jo Dillon, 13-12-2010

"All the best Jackie our love and our prayers are with you. i5gia"
- Alexandra Paterson Pastoral associate Kirribilli, 10-01-2011