Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I have made my debut as a Catholic Mission speaker

This is a copy of the first talk I gave as part of my role as a Catholic Mission Ambassador, at Masses in the Annerley/Ekibin Churches last weekend (June 20-21).

Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your worship celebrations, as a community, tonight/today.

Three housekeeping matters, before I begin:

1) Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this area and pay respect to our indigenous brothers and sisters;
2) Secondly, I would ask, right now, that you please take up one of the envelopes that are placed in each pew, as I am going to be referring to this regularly during my talk.
3) My final housekeeping matter is perhaps the most important and that's to say "THANKYOU" for the support you have given to Catholic Mission in the past. Whether it be through our annual appeals, or as a regular donor, we - and the people we serve - are extremely grateful.

I am extremely humbled to be here, within the church community of St John Fisher/MaryMac, as this is an area that holds some fond memories for me. I was working for the St Vincent de Paul Society several years ago, as its State Youth Ministries Co-ordinator, when I had the privilege of accompanying a group of young children from Inala, for a Buddies Day, to a World Refugee Day event hosted in, and around, the MaryMac function centre. I also have been present at a number of the Adult Faith Gathering Days that are held each year in the same venue.

What I saw when we brought the children from Inala was what happens when different cultures meet: the children came to experience a day out but they had their eyes, minds and I would dare say, their hearts, opened to the presence of people who were different from them. In turn, the overall day was enriched when some of those children got up to take part in some traditional dancing put on by some of the African people.

Mission is not just about us going off to make someone else's life better. Hopefully, that's a direct result of mission taking place. But the essence of mission lies in the type of encounter we hear about in today's second reading, where Paul and Barnabas speak of their interaction with the Gentiles: in responding to the call, or command of God, they are compelled to share the light of Christ; the Gentiles, in turn are "glad and honored" and come to their own relationship with God. Faith is not imposed or forced upon them but it becomes their choice.

The story of Sr Barbara Tippolay, who is the focus of our appeal at this time, also reflects this dynamic.

Sr Barbara lives and works in a remote community on the Tiwi Islands, just north of Darwin. After many years serving others in PNG, Sister Barbara felt called to bring healing into her own community.

As a child, she was raised at Garden Point Mission on Melville Island. As she became a teenager, she found herself assuming responsibility for looking after some of the smaller children in the community.

Sr Barbara then went on to work as a teacher in PNG and ultimately became Superior General for her congregation, The Handmaids of Our Lord. Since returning to the Tiwi Islands, she co-ordinates a Women's Centre, where she encourages local women to share their creative talents. This poster and the envelope you have in your hand (hold up poster and envelope) each contain elements of some of the art work produced by one of these women and Catholic Mission is grateful to have been given permission to use it in our appeal materials.

Just as Paul and Barnabas responded to the call into today's Gospel, to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation", Sr Barbara is a living example of someone who seeks to bring the Good News message of hope and reconciliation to those around her. Working with the women, on various textiles projects and engaging in regular dialogue and discussion, Sr Barbara has created a space where her fellow Tiwi Islanders can share the stories of their history and of their family life and also of their struggles with issues such as domestic violence and suicide.

To help with their work, the Sisters often fundraise by baking cakes and selling them to locals. Sometimes, they have to deal with the reality of finding desperate people asleep on their front steps.

Sr Barbara is doing all she can to help these people. But just as the disciples were upheld by the Lord, so too Sr Barbara needs our support. This is where Catholic Mission - and the people who support us - come in.

Before I share the story of another missionary with you, let me tell you briefly about Catholic Mission itself. Firstly, we are not an agency that has occasional contact with the Catholic Church; we are very much embedded in the Church itself. We are the official aid agency of the Pope and have been supporting the church in more than 160 countries for over 185 years.

Secondly, we structure our work through three different Societies, each of which has a particular focus or mandate: there is the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which allows donors to support the work of the Church across different communities; this includes the Home Mission Fund, which has been set up by the Catholic Church in Australia to support, through a 30 per cent allocation of funds raised through our church appeals, the church's work in remote, poor and indigenous communities, in Australia. Our work with our indigenous brothers and sisters is, as you can tell from the story of Sr Barbara, just as important and powerful an example of mission work as what occurs overseas.

The second Society is the Children's Mission Society, which allows donors to support the church's work with children. I will have some brochures with me at the end of Mass for anyone who would like to know more about supporting this particular ministry.

Finally, there is the Society of St Peter Apostle. This is a program that gives donors the chance to support the church's work of training and equipping future leaders, such as priests and religious, to serve communities in their place of birth.

Our funds are dispersed in a very democratic way each year. National Directors from each country's version of Catholic Mission gather to see how much money has been raised. They then look at the various applications for funding that have been submitted, from each diocese across the globe, and make decisions about which projects or ministries can be supported. It is very much the local church putting forward ideas for enriching, or bringing life, to the people it is serving at a grassroots level. We, as Catholic Mission in Australia, do not impose or tell people like Sr Barbara where and how to spend any money they might receive. This is a powerful model and one which helps ensure accountability to our different stakeholders, especially our donors.

Before I actually ask you to make a donation, let me share about a story of another missionary. I have already talked about Sr Barbara and I commend her story to you. But some of you may be sitting there wondering "that's fine, she's a nun, that's what nuns do" or "I could never be a missionary like that…" or "look, I have enough trouble dealing with the demands of family, work, and all the other things that make up my life - how can I 'go into the world and do what the disciples were called to do?" I won't ask for a show of hands but I suspect there are some among us, including myself, who regularly ask questions such as these, either at Mass or perhaps in the quietness of our own heart…

If you are in that group, and perhaps even if you're not, let me tell you about a 41-year-old man who is engaged in mission. This man is not in ordained ministry. He possesses no immediately obvious special gifts or qualifications. This man is husband to a wife who has a significant medical condition. He is the father to a nearly four-year-old son who also has the same medical condition. In fact, his son returned home yesterday after more than a month in the Royal Children's Hospital fighting a significant infection and complications arising from his condition. The man of whom I speak has buried his first and only daughter, who died at 137 days. He struggles with all the demands and temptations that come from working as a professional, is often away from home, and has to manage competing priorities.

But what this man – what I – have learnt is what all of us who are parents learn: that we will never do anything more important than bringing life into this world and that our first calling, our mission, is to impart the love of God onto our children. As a husband, I have learnt that no matter what our relationship status is - divorced, widowed, married, single or ordained - our mission as Christians is to be fully present to those around us, and to let the light of our faith "shine".

Each of us are indeed engaged in Mission. But there are some who, like the disciples, undertake missionary work in foreign lands or locations removed from where they grew up. It is those we support through Catholic Mission and it is those people we ask you to think about, pray about and, most importantly, contribute to tonight/today.

My call to each of you here tonight is two-fold: celebrate your own missionary calling, whatever and however that may be; and please give generously so that the "riches of this nation" will be brought to people like Sr Barbara.

If I could ask that you now take your envelope, and a pencil or pen, and make a contribution appropriate to your circumstances and ability to give.

If you are wondering about what is an appropriate gift, I draw your attention to the inside flap of the envelope, which lists how certain amounts could be used in communities across the world.

As we move into the celebration of our Eucharist, I would like to thank Fr John Gillen/Fr Michael McKeaton for giving me permission to share with you tonight. It is a privilege that Catholic Mission does not take for granted. Thankyou Father.

Finally, I would like to thank you: for your attention as I have spoken, for your interest in the work of Catholic Mission, and, most significantly tonight/today, for your financial generosity. I pray God will richly bless you all and look forward to being part of your community again in the future.

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