“Woah…hold on a second….What. Just. Happened!?” This gives you an insight into my state of mind as I began travelling home to Maitland on Friday afternoon after spending three days in Sydney with members of the Pastoral Placement Program. We were in Sydney on a mission to explore the work of Caritas Australia through engaging in a ‘hands on’ immersion experience in the National Office. To say that we were overwhelmed by what we experienced and learned would be inadequate, as the hospitality and generosity of this Catholic agency was above and beyond anything we could have anticipated. To have left, inspired and called to become something more, because of our encounter with Caritas Australia, was certainly an unexpected surprise.
Today, 1 September, we celebrate the first World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in the Catholic Church. Some of us might be feeling a little unsure about how to enter into this day. It might seem a little foreign to our ears, and our hearts, since the care of the environment and Creation have not always held the limelight in our Catholic Tradition. Pope Francis is certainly encouraging us to challenge this mindset and actively work for the good of all Creation since his recently released encyclical Laudato Si’. Now he institutes this day of world prayer for the care of Creation. It is my hope that Catholics are able to enter this day with open hearts, as they are challenged to spend time sitting with God to discern what God might be calling them to when it comes to caring for all Creation. Today presents a great opportunity to begin that conversation with God and more importantly, listen to the voice of the Spirit moving within us.
I would like to attempt to inspire this prayerful action in you by sharing some of the golden nuggets of inspiration I have had from the few days I spent with Caritas last week. Caritas (a Latin word meaning Love and Compassion) is an agency in our Catholic Church that possesses a truly Catholic identity at its heart. Caritas’ identity is grounded in the concept of human dignity, which is given to all by God, since every person, no matter what race, colour or religion, is made in God’s image and likeness. Caritas seeks to stand with and learn from the poor. Caritas is about facilitating and empowering all human beings, but especially the most poor and marginalised, to live out freely their human dignity.
I don’t know if you have noticed already, but this idea of “empowering” the other, is something on which our diocese places great importance. Our mission statement is: “To hear God’s people…and empower them to participate fully in Christ’s mission”. When I discovered this parallel between Caritas as an international aid agency, and our own local Church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, I couldn’t help but wonder at how this principal of empowering the other is so inherently Catholic.
I was inspired to hear of the variety of long-term projects Caritas Australia is involved in all over the world. In a session where we listened to the work that is being done on the ground in East Timor, it was clear that the main aim of Caritas’ approach was to empower the local community to find its own solutions to the problems of poverty or violence besetting them. As I listened, I was struck by the way its approach to undertaking projects in the developed world was exactly akin to a traditional Catholic discernment process. First, the Caritas team would go into a community and would facilitate meetings and groups with the locals in order to listen to the people. Then, the Caritas aid workers could use some tools and frameworks which would help the people to act and therefore move their community towards a better future. I found this process so clearly Catholic in its design that I began to understand anew the heavily integrated nature of social justice in our Catholic tradition. This means that acts of charity and justice (whether towards people, the environment, etc.) are important actions of a living disciple of Jesus in the Catholic tradition.
As a Supervisor in the Pastoral Placement Program, I have become acutely aware of the important fruit that comes from learning the principles of good discernment. The Pastoral Placement Program stands upon the twin pillars of experience and learning to discern where God is calling me in this situation. Good discernment will be a real gift to our young people as they make important life decisions and desire to build a better world and a better Church.
Applications for next year’s Pastoral Placement Program are now open.