The readings for the Third Sunday in Advent are a reminder that Jesus came into the world to bring the Good News to the poor. Pope Francis also reminds us that, as followers of Jesus, we too must bring this same Good News to the peripheries. In this issue of The Bridge, we share stories of communities who will be bringing this message of hope during the Christmas season.
Seafarers and fishers
Port Adelaide, South Australia
Have you ever given thought to the men and women whose working lives are spent at sea? While we enjoy the produce of the oceans and the products brought into Australia across the seas, many of these workers will be away from their loved ones at Christmas.
At Port Adelaide this Christmas, there will be a number of ships docked with workers who hold Christian beliefs. The Henley Beach chapter of the St Vincent de Paul Society will supply these workers with Christmas gift hampers. This outreach will be done through Stella Maris, an apostolic work of the Catholic Church.
“At this time of year, we are grateful for the marvellous support of the St Vincent de Paul volunteers. Also, our close contacts with the agents and union at the Port lead us in the right direction so we can connect with Christian seafarers at Christmas,” says Ian Keane, centre manager for Stella Maris at Port Adelaide.
Stella Maris cares for the spiritual, social and material needs of seafarers, irrespective of their ethnicity, race or creed, and is the largest ship-visiting network in the world.
Port Augusta, South Australia
For those who are incarcerated and their families, Christmas is often an emotionally and financially difficult time.
Sr Delma Rani is the coordinator of Catholic prison chaplaincy for the Diocese of Port Pirie. Nine volunteers (pictured) provide support to inmates in the Port Augusta, Port Lincoln and Cadell prisons. There are also 30 volunteers working in parish groups who are involved in “outside ministry”. They provide support for released prisoners, their families, pen-pal friends and coordinate the “Blue and Pink Bags” project, providing emergency packs for released prisoners.
“Leading up to Christmas we will be preparing liturgical services at each of the prisons and will distribute Christmas chocolates to everyone,” Sr Delma says. “As far as possible we make ourselves available to support the prisoners with their spiritual and emotional issues. We provide a safe environment where they feel comfortable to express their feelings and faith.”
Clare Holland House, Canberra
Providing quality end-of-life care is an expression of the dignity with which we hold every person. For people working and volunteering in palliative care, every day, every shift, is an opportunity to meet the special needs of their patients and their loved ones. Under the care of the Little Company of Mary, Clare Holland House serves those entering the final stages of life.
“While our volunteers are attuned to the needs of our clients on a daily basis, they make a special effort at Christmas to bring as much joy as they can,” says Tracy Gillard, CEO of Palliative Care ACT, which runs the volunteer program.
“Our volunteers put up Christmas decorations and dress in festive gear, while staff at the hospice prepare special Christmas treats. However, what must be acknowledged is that on Christmas Day we know many of our volunteers very thoughtfully make the sacrifice to spend time with patients when they could easily be at home with their own family. For this we are most grateful.”
St Vincent de Paul Society Christmas Assistance
Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Christmas can often place additional financial stress on families with low incomes. This year, volunteers from 48 St Vincent de Paul Society conferences spread across the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, including towns from Eden to Batemans Bay to Goulburn, Tumut and as far west as Lake Cargelligo, will provide hampers and gifts for low-income families. In addition, youth-focused conferences will provide gifts for the children they have worked with during the year.
John Feint has had a long association with the St Vincent de Paul Society, and now serves as regional president for the Tuggeranong Monaro Region.
“Our help is appreciated,” John says. “Many are in tears when they receive our hamper delivery. Some say it is too much and cannot believe the generosity of the Society.
“We make a difference at a time when companions are more stressed about how to make ends meet.”
The beauty of having conferences working at the local level means that volunteers can carefully meet the individual needs of their companions, not only at Christmas but whenever help is required.
Orange Catholic Parish, NSW
An amazing story of goodwill and sacrifice is unfolding in the rural parish of Orange, NSW. Hearing the plight of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Australia, the parish and the broader community offered to resettle families in the local area. To date, seven groups have been welcomed into the community and another family will arrive in the coming days. Two families have made their home in a former convent at nearby Molong, which was generously renovated by local townspeople.
“What has been so lovely is the way in which so many people have pitched in to provide permanent housing, social support and ongoing practical assistance,” says Pip Waters, a local parishioner who is part of the large network of people behind this initiative.
“It breaks your heart to see the dire situation that the refugees find themselves in. Their lives are so precarious as they try to navigate visas, working permits and finances, and at the same time watch what is happening in their beloved homeland.”
But just as the community was settling the families into the convent, the floods hit the town. And so, in a strange reversal of circumstances, the refugees came out in force supporting the very people who had supported them just days before.
Christmas will provide several opportunities to further support the Ukrainian families. Children from the local school where Pip teaches music will provide entertainment at a fundraiser being organised by Rural Australians for Refugees. There will also be carols in Molong and an Aussie Christmas barbecue at the convent. A “GoFundMe” account has been established, and Pip hopes people will continue to dig deep this Christmas to provide much-needed funds to assist the families.
Shortly after Pope Francis was elected, one of his friends, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, said to him, “Don’t forget about the poor.” Indeed, Pope Francis has not forgotten the poor and constantly reminds us to do likewise.
As we consider how we might be called to be “Christ” at Christmas, let us ponder the Pope’s words:
“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, #20).
Images: Seafarer receives Christmas hamper 2020, Port Adelaide, South Australia.
Catholic prison chaplaincy volunteers, Diocese of Port Pirie.
Clare Holland House volunteers, Canberra.
St Vincent de Paul Society Conference, Narooma, NSW: Christmas appeal 2019.
Ukrainian family in their new home 2022, Molong, NSW. Photo courtesy of Migrant and Refugee Support Service.
Words: Sharon Brewer
Molong’s Ukrainian refugees return the favour, Catholic Weekly, November 23, 2022
 Gospel Acclamation (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18), Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11)
 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, para 20. Rome: promulgated 24 November 2013.
 “Companions” is the preferred term for people receiving assistance from the St Vincent de Paul Conferences.
 Orange Catholic Parish values the Rural Australians for Refugees for their support of the Ukrainian families and supports the GoFundMe project noted in this article. The Australian bishops are also backing an appeal for Ukrainian people this Advent.