As I sit to write this message, I feel the deep grief of the world standing in disbelief that once again, tragedy has struck the people of France, and indeed all of us.

I struggle with the term ‘war on terror’ and yet it seems that is what we are facing in this 21st century. The outpouring of grief, and the need for people to gather and to express this in signs, symbols and rituals, speaks to me of what we as humans hold in common, no matter what culture, race or creed. It is love that we share and not violence, hatred or fear. This is the message of Jesus and all the great teachers of our world religions. I hope we are able to stand in solidarity with those who may be demonised because of their race or creed.

As we journey towards our final Sundays of this liturgical year, I hope we are able to contemplate the Kingdom of God in all its mystery and glory and imagine how we are calling this into being, now, not in some future reality.

Just over a week ago, I attended a presentation given by Marcelle Mogg from Catholic Social Services Australia on the report Dropping off the Edge. While this is the fourth such report since 1999, it is worth looking up, and being informed as to what and why disadvantage continues to find its place in Australia. The report explored 22 indicators of disadvantage and so I list those for your consideration:

  • Internet access
  • Housing stress
  • Low family income
  • Overall education
  • Post-schooling qualifications
  • Unskilled workers
  • Young adults (17-24) not engaged
  • Readiness for schooling
  • Disability support
  • Long-term unemployment
  • Rent assistance
  • Unemployment
  • Year 3 numeracy
  • Year 3 reading
  • Year 9 numeracy
  • Year 9 reading
  • Child maltreatment
  • Criminal convictions
  • Juvenile convictions
  • Domestic violence
  • Prison admissions
  • Psychiatric admissions.

These are the factors that limit life opportunities in the broad areas of social wellbeing, health, community safety, access to housing, education and employment. The study shows that disadvantage in communities results from a complex web of factors. I believe we are called to involve ourselves in addressing this disadvantage at our local community level and I have referred to this in my messages over the past month.

I attended the opening of the new St Vincent de Paul offices this week, located opposite the Cathedral in Newcastle West. Branch president, Peter Fishlock, included the following statistics in his opening address:

Our services that are supported from this facility include 1047 members and 48 conferences, 645 Mini Vinnies and youth members, the Distribution Centre which supports and supplies our 29 centres.

Our 9 special works includes the Compeer program (matching buddies with those with a mental illness), the NILS program (the no interest loan scheme), Budget Counselling for conference support, Migrant and Refugee support, Homeless Services and Outreach, Ability Links and Early Links administration, student accommodation for country youth and our Outreach and Legal Counselling.

St Vincent de Paul certainly does its bit to reduce the effects of disadvantage in our community by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy.

Our CatholicCare Social Services similarly serves the disadvantaged in areas of out of home care, youth outreach, mental health support, disability services, refugee services and counselling across a number of facilities.

It seems to me that many are not aware of the good works already being done in the name of Jesus and the Catholic Church. Our schools tend to the needs of many children and families who come from some of the areas that have been identified as disadvantaged. I know from my years of teaching that education is a critical factor in lifting people out of disadvantage.

Certainly there is obviously much more we can do to address the web of disadvantage brought about by any number of the 22 factors explored in this study. One of the terms that seems to be forming part of the dialogue is cohesion. A sustained long term commitment across the government, community and business sectors to resolving this complex problem is desperately needed. I continue to wonder if our Church can be at the forefront of driving this change, through our call to be the face, hands, feet and heart of Christ in the world.

I invite you all to engage with the Year of Mercy to bring about this change.

This is a shorter message this week because of a persistent virus that seems to be plaguing me.

May we all pray for our beautiful world and the people who inhabit it.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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