AURORA EXTRA: Channelling mercy through the dust

Predictably, the theme of the 2016 Australasian Catholic Press Association’s annual conference, held in Sydney last week, was “Channels of mercy”.

While many speakers and delegates invoked the quality of mercy in sharing their experiences, it was perhaps less predictable that the conference dinner guest, William McInnes, would be entirely comfortable in doing so. Amid rollicking tales and self-deprecation, the actor, writer and raconteur shared some of the most evocative times of his life. 

It always fascinates me that beyond the careful planning and anticipating a conference entails, synchronicities emerge. Mercy was ubiquitous – in deed as well as word – and this not-so-Australian-word is becoming part of our vernacular, at least in church circles. However, keynote speaker and CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, Marcelle Mogg, told of how seminary rector Jorge Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) would send seminarians to the favelas to be with the poor. When they returned, he would check their shoes. If they weren’t dusty enough, they would be sent back to try again!

Kirsty Robertson, CEO of Mary MacKillop International (MMI), shared her on-the-ground experiences in places like Timor Leste, our nearest neighbour, where dust is ubiquitous. MMI focuses on the provision of education and has produced a visual program to help illiterate mothers educate the next generation. The results are life-changing, and as Kirsty says, “Mercy is about finding hope and opportunity in dirt and dust.”

Newly-elected Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is a Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. She shared stories of indigenous communities and was open in acknowledging that not only are there issues to be addressed between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, but among indigenous peoples: “Aboriginal people need to forgive each other.” And at ‘senate school’, she said, “We can get to know each other and put our spears down!”

The annual Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement was launched at the conference by Fr Kevin McGovern, Director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics. The statement is titled “A Place at the Table: Social Justice in an Ageing Society”. Speaker Sr Patty Fawkner sgs quoted an African proverb, “The death of an old person is like the loss of a library” and said, “The Australian Bishops concur that the wisdom and lived experience of older people are priceless treasures.”

The canonisation of Mother Teresa took place in Rome on the day before the conference began and so a visit to the local Missionaries of Charity community was in order. While it’s 19 years since Mother Teresa died, it was clear to me that for the Sisters, she is very much alive. Sr Maria Lucy was with Mother when she died, in the unassuming way in which she had lived.

As always, the opportunity to spend time with women and men of like mind is both valuable and enjoyable.

Highlights of this conference, and its predecessor, the conference of the Australasian Religious Press Association, are the annual award presentations. Aurora had some success:

Australasian Catholic Press Association

  • Highly Commended: Best Ecumenical/Interfaith Story, “Two Storey Love”, congratulations Michael O’Connor! You can read the story at  Two storey love
  • Highly Commended: Best Social Justice Coverage, “A refugee’s story – just being kept alive is not a life” Congratulations to CatholicCare Refugee Service’s John Sandy! Read the story at A refugee's story

Australasian Religious Press Association

  • Silver Award for Best Column – congratulations Bishop Bill! “Aurora, with its huge circulation, reaches a regional non-church readership, so a bishop writing for this audience faces a huge task. Bishop Bill’s series speaks to current community concerns in a refreshingly un-churchy way, while not resiling from his Christian stance, especially when tackling difficult issues.”
  • Gold Award for Best Regional Publication. “…Cleverly incorporates the larger issues of life and Roman Catholic faith through a local diocesan eye.”

As always, the opportunity to spend time with women and men of like mind is both valuable and enjoyable.

I am deeply grateful to the members of the Editorial Team – Michael O’Connor, Shirley McHugh, Trish Bogan, Monica Scanlon and John Murray – and to the members of the Communications Team – Joanne Isaac, Geraldine Williams, Katherine Muscat, Brooke Robinson, Elle Tamata, Lizzie Snedden, Amanda Skehan, Alyssa Faith and Kate Bennett – each of whom contribute to our magazine. 

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Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is a member of the Raymond Terrace Parish and a freelance writer with a particular interest in church matters.

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