I can’t imagine what it is like being Dr Kerry Chant, those assessing the data and the Premier, let alone those people who have acquired the virus. I believe we need to hold those in leadership, across our globe, in our prayers as they deal with the stress of being responsible for keeping people alive and well.
As NAIDOC week draws to a close, with its theme, Heal Country, I have been conscious and proud of the many news items and TV programs that covered the good news stories of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. During the week I came across a report from the Climate Council and Emergency Leaders for Climate Action - First Nations Climate Justice – Written summary of the online public panel, of four researchers – Tishiko King, Mibu Fischer, Bhiamie Williamson and Rae Johnston, which focused on a public panel held on 29 April, 2021. The following words about the bushfires, from Bhiamie Williamson, a Euahlayi man from north-west New South Wales, whose expertise includes cultural land management, cultural burning with a focus on southern temperate Australia, and the impacts of disasters on Indigenous peoples, spoke to me:
There is just a deep and unending sadness that lingers in those places, and may do for the rest of our lives. While people have come to terms with the destruction that was caused, they haven’t come to terms with the extent of their trauma and their grief, and people really need help with that.
And people are angry, so so angry. But it’s not anger that’s crippling, it’s anger that is motivating. People are hungry to get out and start looking after those landscapes again. People are already talking about when’s the right time to put fire back into those landscapes. People are talking about what trees they need to plant, what native plants they need to propagate, what animals they want to bring back. People are talking about all of these solutions. And they don’t need help, but they need support. Looking after the land and helping the land to recover is such an important part of the healing process. Community recovery and recovery of the natural environment - for us they’re the same thing. And that’s where we really need to be supporting local communities who know what they want to do. They just need the resources and the support to be able to do it.
When reading this, I could sense the similarity between what Bhiamie is saying about recovery from the bushfires as he stressed the importance of deep listening, and our own experiences of being part of the Catholic Church at this point in history. I think our Diocesan Synod and the Plenary Council are an invitation to true healing by telling our individual and community stories. Jesus used the power of story to connect with his listeners and to explain God’s mission, and to invite them to become missionary disciples, being sent on mission.
In this week’s Gospel reading from Mark (6:7-13), Jesus sends out the Twelve on a missionary journey. However, before he does so, he talks with them about how they are to dress and behave while on mission. He knows that actions speak louder than words, and that people will listen to what the Twelve say, only if they live and act in a manner that wins respect.
During the week I attended, online, the Alive in the Spirit Conference – Being the community that Christ calls us to be. Lana Turvey-Collins spoke about the context for mission and during her talk, she reflected on her early learning about being a missionary. She reflected that being missionary is like stepping respectfully and treading gently through a garden. It is not about leading, but about journeying with the world around you. We are attempting to be missionary disciples in this context of time and place, something not previously experienced. She spoke about being missionary as living into your context, by responding to God’s call to be fully alive in the Spirit.
The opening song for the conference was James Maher’s beautiful hymn, Spirit of Heaven. I share with you the words of the refrain which reflect our hope:
Spirit of heaven, fill this place!
Spirit of power, now arise!
Spirit of fire enflame our hearts –
Open our minds to know your truth.
Open our lives to live your word.
Make us your witnesses today,
To all the world.
As Jesus sent out his Twelve, he continues to send us into places we may not wish to go. This week we especially think of the mission of Stella Maris, Apostleship of the Sea, which is the official global maritime welfare agency of the Catholic Church. Here in Newcastle, Bernadette Barry, ministers alongside those at the Mission to Seafarers, who provide practical, social and spiritual support to seafarers visiting our ports.
During COVID, the seafarers have rarely been allowed to step foot on land, and if they have done so have run the risk of contracting the virus. Australia is dependent on 90% of its goods coming to us by ship, and Sea Sunday is an opportunity for us to remember, celebrate, pray for seafarers and their families and give thanks for their lives and work. We are being asked to give generously on this Sunday in support of the Stella Maris centres across Australia. I invite you to go to their website www.stellamarisaustralia.org and donate if you are able.
I can’t imagine what life must be like for them, at sea, for months at a time, unable to see their families or communicate with them, living in cramped conditions and receiving very little pay. These are the working, invisible poor, the strangers who serve us and support our lifestyle. The Mission to Seafarers/Apostleship of the Sea Centres provide a welcoming, caring place for the seafarers during ‘normal’ times. In COVID, our Centre here in Newcastle, has been dropping off care-packs to the ships, of clothing, food, beanies, toiletries, books, rosary beads etc to show that we still appreciate and care for them.
And so, I finish this week’s message with some words from Sundays Second Reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians (1:3-14) about being chosen in Christ before the world was made:
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determined that we should become his adopted sons,
through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved
in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
Such is the richness of the grace
which he has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
May we have the courage to keep on being sent to places we may not wish to tread!