The Sisters of The Good Samaritan Tue, 26 Jul 2016 22:55:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sister Mary Roche (1926 – 2016) Wed, 20 Jul 2016 06:01:44 +0000 Mary Roche SGS

Mary Roche SGS

Mary Agnes Roche was born in Gayndah on August 2, 1926. Known amongst family and friends as May, Mary was the fourth of seven children – four girls and three boys. The oldest boy died in infancy. Her father, Patrick, was an Irishman from Dublin who had settled in Gayndah after World War I as a printer. Her mother, Elizabeth (nee McDonnell), was a teacher in the local state school.

From an early age Mary learnt the value of growing up in a loving and faith-committed family. Her parents, she often said, were excellent role models and the family lived simply but happily.

Mary attended the local Catholic school where she first met the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Recalling those years, Mary said she was always happy at school and admired the sisters very much. She believed the seeds of her vocation were planted at a very early age.

The declaration of war in 1939 affected the family business. At the end of the following year the family moved to Ipswich where opportunities for suitable employment were more available for young people. Mary went as a boarder to Sacred Heart Secondary School, Innisfail, completing her secondary education in 1942.

After teaching at Lourdes Hill College in the Commercial Department, Mary entered Mount St Benedict Novitiate at Pennant Hills on January 6, 1948. She professed her vows on January 6, 1950.

At St Scholastica’s Training College in 1950, Mary’s great love of teaching continued to grow. For the next nine years she taught at St James School, Forest Lodge, where she happily met many young students and learnt to appreciate the support of the teaching staff.

During the next six years Mary was in charge of the then small secondary college, St Patrick’s Campbelltown, where her skill as a teacher and leader, and her support of staff and students, was much appreciated.

In 1966 she was appointed as the founding deputy principal to the newly established College, Mount St Benedict’s, at Pennant Hills. During her eight years in this position she completed her Bachelor of Education with the University of New England, Armidale. She continued at Mount St Benedict’s as principal for another six years.

After a year of renewal in Melbourne at Assumption Institute, Mary returned to Sydney for three years as mistress of students at St Scholastica’s College. From 1984 until the end of 1996, Mary, always the dedicated teacher, taught in schools in Townsville, Wilston and Ayr.

Mary returned to Queensland to the Lourdes Hill community in 1998, after spending a renewal year overseas. She returned to the classroom in her much-loved Lourdes Hill College on a part-time basis. On her retirement in 2007, she acknowledged “The Lord has been good to me. Blessed be the Lord!”

Her love for and dedication to teaching never wavered. After a serious health set-back in 2012, Mary returned as an active volunteer. A keen reader and lover of literature, Mary volunteered to read and review books for students in the Lourdes Hill College Library and she supported students in the support-a-reader program in Sts Peter and Paul’s Primary School. Her hope was always “to give help to students with learning difficulties and to give students hope in God and in their futures”.

In 2014 Mary received a Certificate of Recognition from the Queensland College of Teachers for 30 years as a registered teacher in Queensland.

Mary is survived by three of her seven siblings, Patricia, Danny and Peter. Aunty May’s sense of humour, personal interest in all the family and her gentle words of wisdom and presence at family gatherings will be much missed.

Though small in stature, Mary had a big impact for good on the lives of many during her long life. She is lovingly remembered by her Good Samaritan Sisters, her family and friends and all who knew her. We pray she now enjoys the fullness of life in the presence of her God.

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Lost battles of the Christian churches Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:15:37 +0000 Garry Everett

Garry Everett

How do the Christian churches effectively counter such marketplace-driven ideas as assisted suicide, asks Garry Everett.

BY Garry Everett*

“Across the past 120 years, the Christian churches in Europe and Australia have lost every significant, long-term battle about social norms and legal measures to underpin them.” Greg Sheridan, The Australian’s foreign editor, made this claim last month in his column (June 4) and went on to argue that the churches’ ‘lost battles’ can be attributed to them drifting too far from the marketplace of ideas.

He’s right.

Consider the following ‘lost battles’: artificial birth control; abortion; divorce; Sunday trading; film standards; same-sex adoption. And there is every likelihood that the churches will soon lose other ‘battles’, such as same-sex marriage and voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Sheridan attributes the losses to two factors, both of which he claims are failings of church leadership. Firstly, he claims “the churches don’t produce social leaders with any media profile, any traction”. That is, the churches are not in the marketplace. Secondly, he asserts: “If the churches cannot get their own members to follow their basic strictures, they should not demand that the state do their job for them”.

Is he right?

In part. There is truth in his nominated failures of the churches (perhaps with the recent exception of Pope Francis, a leader who does engage with the marketplace), but it is not the whole truth. In my opinion, these ‘lost battles’ can be attributed, in part, to the success of the marketplace selling its ideas.

Voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide provides a contemporary and clear example of such an idea and its sales pitch. There has been a spate of movies in the last few years which have explored this idea from various perspectives. Think Million Dollar Baby, Armour, The English Patient, The Sea Inside Us, Last Cab to Darwin, and currently, Me Before You.

Films are part of the marketplace. They convey popular ideas, as do social media, TV, online discussion groups and coffee clubs. In these rapidly changing environments, ideas come and go with singular speed. In fact, speed is of the essence. Often an idea is justified or validated by its instantaneous popularity.

If we peel back the surface layer of marketplace thinking, for example, in movies, we find there are three common criteria against which arguments are measured. The topic of euthanasia or assisted suicide illustrates this clearly.

Firstly, the idea is presented as a human right – “choosing to die is a basic human right” – and who wants to argue against human rights? Defending human rights is ‘a good’ and attacking such rights is ‘an evil’. Portraying suicide in this way allows the marketplace to depict an evolution of human rights. The old system universally supported all life, but the modern (evolutionary) way is to accept that, when necessary, a person may take his or her own life, especially if the individual is suffering an extreme impairment or a terminal illness.

This argument based on a notion of human rights is further enhanced in the marketplace by appealing to our emotions: sympathy and empathy. This is the second criterion for the assessment of an idea. We often hear expressions such as “everyone will be better off – the sufferer and the supporters”. This is an argument about the wisdom of ending pain for all those who are involved. The marketplace presents this ‘ending pain’ idea as something logical, patently good.

The third criterion is the economic consideration. We hear it expressed as “too much money is being spent to keep him alive when all he wants to do is die”. In a culture where money matters most, saving money by helping people to end their own lives is projected as a social good, a responsible thing to do.

The movie Me Before You illustrates well this marketplace approach. Will, the male lead, is a quadriplegic following a motor vehicle accident. His mother hires a young woman to be his carer. Will is sceptical of Emma’s abilities, and despite her best efforts and the growing sense of love that they share, Will persists in his determination to end his life. However, Will also leaves Emma a substantial fortune in his will (the economic good side of the story). While we all feel sorry for Will, we somehow feel happier (sympathy/empathy) for Emma because she will be ‘better off’ in the end. Thus Will is portrayed as courageous and caring, Emma as supportive and surviving, and by inference, we conclude that suicide is a good thing in this case.

Returning to Greg Sheridan’s assessment of the Christian churches, we are confronted with a serious dilemma. How do the churches effectively counter such marketplace-driven ideas as assisted suicide?

Perhaps we have learnt how not to do it. You may recall that last year Australia’s Catholic Bishops issued a ten-page pastoral letter entitled “Don’t Mess With Marriage” to counter the populist promotion of gay marriage. This letter was sent to schools and parishes – not the marketplace – and employed a non-marketplace strategy (a lengthy printed defence of the status quo).

We might accept that the Bishops were not addressing the marketplace, but only seeking to inform the Church’s adherents. We might even accept that the letter was intended to prepare those adherents to enter the marketplace and argue a contrary point of view.

But ten pages of philosphico-theological reasoning is beyond most Church adherents, and is not the language of the marketplace. Interestingly, one of the first responses from the marketplace in Tasmania was to accuse the Archbishop of Hobart of discrimination (an anti-human rights assessment!).

The Federal election has been decided and some form of voting about gay marriage is assured. The outcome seems inevitable: Australia will support the popular notion.

In my opinion, euthanasia or suicide – including assisted suicide, will follow soon after. I hope I am not right!

* Garry Everett has spent all his professional life, as well as much of retirement, as an educator, and mostly of adults. Garry’s enduring interests lie in family, Scripture, theology and Church renewal. At a local level he is involved in social justice and ecumenism. He is also a member of his parish St Vincent de Paul Conference.

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Diversity saves us from bland, monochrome world Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:10:45 +0000 Moira Byrne Garton

Moira Byrne Garton

“Thank God you’re here, I’m surrounded by NLUs!” A friend related the story of being greeted this way when she had joined a tourist group of Australians visiting another country, writes Moira Byrne Garton.

BY Moira Byrne Garton*

“Thank God you’re here, I’m surrounded by NLUs!”

A friend related the story of being greeted this way when she had joined a tourist group of Australians visiting another country.

“What do you mean?” she had asked.

“The other Australians on this tour are Not Like Us,” said the friend. “Us”, in this instance, meant white, middle-aged, educated, and well-to-do.

Our primitive brains equip us to notice differences in others. For thousands of years, those different from us and our ‘tribe’ posed a potential threat. Perhaps this is why, when encountering those not like us, we can ‘other’ people. ‘Othering’ is using difference to separate ourselves from those in the community we choose not to engage with.

People of a different ethnicity or religion, people who are Indigenous, people with disability, or people who identify as different from the mainstream in relation to gender or sexuality are frequently ‘othered’ by those in mainstream Australia.

Our dominant group is English-speaking, Caucasian, healthy and able, heterosexual and fitting with the gender binary. Those in power tend also to be older and male. Those outside of this group are frequently ‘othered’. “We” don’t want to include them because “they” are “migrating to take our jobs”, “getting special treatment at our expense”, or “not fitting in with us”.

And we’re not alone in our beliefs. The recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union was achieved through a widely-held belief that the arrival of ‘others’ from within the EU was ruining the British way of life.

We know that ‘othering’ is the first step in dehumanising a group of people. That’s why it is easy to ignore when “they” become too hard to communicate with. That’s why some retaliate when “they” seek to educate the broader community about discrimination or other issues. That’s why it becomes possible for “them” to be stereotyped and judged in parts of the media. That’s why it’s possible to turn a blind eye when “they” are being sexually abused in Australian detention centres. That’s why little effort is made about “their” being incarcerated or murdered at many times the rate of white Australians.

There is a better way. Many have realised that we can learn from others. We can benefit from others’ skills, knowledge, allegiance and strengths. We know there are benefits for workplaces and the community when there is diversity. We can share stories and traditions, we can gain insight to other ways of life, and we can grow as people.

The reason many of us visit other countries is to do just this – which makes a tour group a contradictory setting for people not wanting to engage with different others in their own community.

We can engage at deeper levels as human beings, and we can become enriched by the differences between us, and we can love because of, and not in spite of, our difference.

The story of the friend in the tour group clarified something for me. The richness of diversity is in fact what saves us from a bland and monochrome world. Thank God we are surrounded by NLUs.

(MBG: Thanks to Patty Fawkner SGS)

* Moira Byrne Garton is the mother of four children including a daughter with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. She is a public servant, political scientist and writer.

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A still point in my changing world Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:05:15 +0000 "Mrs Rembrandt" Photo: Mike Scully

“Mrs Rembrandt”
Photo: Mike Scully

“At the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam I met Rembrandt’s mother, and brought her home packaged in a cardboard tube – my souvenir of two days in Holland. Decades later she sits in solitary splendour on my bedroom wall,” writes Judith Lynch.

BY Judith Lynch*

In what one of my young grandchildren calls the olden days, but was actually 1975, my husband and I went to Europe. It was my first trip outside Australia, his second, a bus tour crafted to visit so many countries, in so many days, and bring back the slides to remind yourself, and others, that it actually happened.

Like the rest of the tour group I bought souvenirs – a leather handbag from Florence, a glass swan from Venice, Marks and Spencer everything in England. Then, at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam I met Rembrandt’s mother, and brought her home packaged in a cardboard tube – my souvenir of two days in Holland. Decades later she sits in solitary splendour on my bedroom wall.

I’ve always called her Mrs Rembrandt and assumed she was painted by her brilliant artist of a son. Now it appears that may not be true. Maybe she was someone else’s mother. But that doesn’t matter. Whoever painted this old lady did so with love and respect, no airbrushing here. She wore her age with dignity. More than that really. Every miniscule wrinkle of her lived-in skin was a story without words, captured the way an artist paints the folds of a landscape. This elderly lady had come to terms with life’s regrets.

"Mrs Rembrandt" Photo: Mike Scully

“Mrs Rembrandt”
Photo: Mike Scully

I wasn’t aware that the reason Mrs Rembrandt and I clicked probably went right back to my choice to leave religious life. She looked so calm, so settled, so comfortable in her own skin. It resonated with the womanliness of the Aboriginal women on the Northern Territory mission stations where I taught as a young religious. They had something that I had not found in my years of living with women in religious life.

As I smoothed the print into its slightly battered second-hand frame and hung it on the lounge room wall, my inner self touched into her settledness and I thought, “You and I are going to get on well together”.

Scholarly articles suggest that my Mrs Rembrandt picture was a depiction of the prophetess Hannah. After all she is reading what appears to be a Bible. My own Bible is well thumbed and I like to think that as I age I will find myself in the story of the prophetess Hannah, or is that Anna? Anna, an elderly woman and the first evangelist, proclaiming Jesus’ advent. Anna, a woman reaching into an everyday event and finding there the redemptive action of God. And Anna, a model for women’s ministry in the early Church. Like Mrs Rembrandt I find life and meaning in my Bible.

Sometimes I walk into my bedroom and turn on the table lamp and there she is, sitting so comfortably in her lamplight that I delay drawing the bedroom curtains and sit on the bed and watch her. Outside it’s dark. Her face is partly shadowed and that might be the reason I’m most aware of her during the winter months. Of course it could also be the cosiness of her fur-trimmed hat and jacket. But I think it’s more than that.

Winter in Warrandyte means cold mornings, mist drifting through the green of the eucalypts and evenings that close in before six o’clock. That morning mist is how I sometimes catch a glimpse of who God is, of the relationship between God and me. I see, but I don’t see. Just when I begin to think that I might understand the mystery of who or what is God, it’s gone.

Mrs Rembrandt sits there in my softly lit, shadowy bedroom reading her Bible and it seems appropriate that she and I would share our God journey. I’m fleetingly reminded of that lovely poem by John of the Cross where he describes walking through the dark to meet God, when God is too close to be seen with the senses but glimpsed with our birthright of inner light – something I glimpse in Mrs Rembrandt. It’s a wintery thought and a comforting one that I resolve to remember the next time I feel the chill of what I describe as God’s absence.

Mrs Rembrandt and I have lived together for a long time now and I’m rapidly catching up with her. Soon we’ll be two old ladies swapping stories about our children and how well, or not, they have fared! She’s lived in seven different houses and spent a couple of years in storage as well. Sometimes she hung on the living room wall, more often in the room where I write. Wherever she hangs it’s the way the light comes in from behind her that draws my eye.

She has been a still point in my changing world.

* Judith Lynch’s writing flows out of the patchwork of her life and the spirituality she finds in it. She does this through her website, named after her pioneer grandparent’s wheat farm in Victoria’s Mallee district. Judith’s hope is that the words she uses pick up the vastness and silence of a Mallee horizon, leading her readers to look beyond the obvious and find the God-depths hidden beneath. She is currently writing a book discerning the themes and patterns that have influenced her vocational choices as an ex-religious.

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What does stability look like in communities? Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:03:24 +0000 Pam Grey SGS

Pam Grey SGS

We can create relationships of stability and hope in fragmenting and fractious times by recognising “the call of the moment and responding to it”, says Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey.

BY Pam Grey SGS*

“It’s a question of where you feel you belong”, said the poster outside the British voting booth. The resulting exit from the European Union would satisfy those who didn’t feel they belonged in the Union. However I wonder about the young British people who have known their place in the Union since childhood.

Experiences of instability, loss of hope and anger are to be expected from the dismantling of the old alliances and opportunities for work and travel. The very question: “Where do I now belong?” can be destabilising.

Outside polling stations in the recent Australian Federal election I read the one-word slogan “stability” and had the impression it really meant “Please don’t change the status quo”.

Are you satisfied with Australian society as it is today? Are there aspects that deeply disturb you? Have we become strangers to each other? Just making eye contact has become a rare joy for me these days.

Associate Professor of Politics, Paul Strangio’s description of our society as “fragmenting and fractious” rings true. In a political sense, he recommends “clarity of philosophical purpose with imaginative means to forge new coalitions of support”. In a social sense, I think we need clarity of purpose and imagination in gathering people together. We need to explore elements that make up “stability”.

Imagine the many tasks toddlers must achieve before learning to balance and walk. At first they need the supportive hands and voices of others. Then they try and fall and learn the tricky skills of getting up again. Then comes the radiant smile on the toddler’s face when she takes her first steps into the arms of another. Ongoing experiences of balance, strength, co–ordination, determination, and the loving support of another are the elements that make up stability for toddlers in their quest for reaching their desire.

What does stability look like in communities?

St Benedict made stability one of the three vows for his community which was made up of young and old, artisans and laborers, farmers and scholars. This community began in a time of social disintegration, the collapse of the Roman Empire of the West, in the sixth century. St Benedict wrote a Rule to guide his community in living a Gospel way of life together.

Chapter four of St Benedict’s Rule sets out 74 tools to guide the monks in creating a stable, listening and renewing community. In his book Seventy-Four Tools For Good Living, Australian Cistercian monk, Father Michael Casey, describes a tool as “the challenge to recognise the call of the moment and to respond to it”.

The tools help to maintain stability of purpose, to stay in tune with the truth and to seek Christ in unexpected people and places. St Benedict’s first tool describes “Wholehearted love of God and my neighbour”, while the last stabilising tool is “mercy” – “Never despair of God’s mercy”. Taken altogether the tools name essential elements for a wholesome pattern of life.

The relationship that exists between a well-balanced life and a profound sense of belonging is revealed in a story of a Japanese pond, first told by an architect, Christopher Alexander, in The Timeless Way of Building.

Photo: Pam Grey SGS

Photo: Pam Grey SGS

A farmer had made a small, simple rectangular pond for his farm. The water flowed from a little irrigation stream and flowers bent over the edge. At the other end of the pond a circle of wood was placed about 30 centimetres under the surface of the water. Eight ancient carp swam slowly, in circles – often within the wooden circle. Flashes of orange, gold, purple and black broke the surface. The oldest fish was 80 and its whole world was there in the pond. The farmer sat by his pond for a few minutes each day.

Alexander thought that the pond was so true to the nature of fish and the flowers, the water and the farmers, that it had sustained itself for all that time, “endlessly repeating, always different”… “It is not mysterious. It is above all ordinary. What makes it eternal is its ordinariness… it reminds us of the passing of our life”, surmises Alexander.

Have you ever sat beside a pond or looked out across a lake and pondered? The elements that make up a stable pattern of life are often so ordinary, aren’t they? It is good to recognise them and if missing, to restore them.

I believe that we can create relationships of stability and hope in fragmenting and fractious times by recognising “the call of the moment and responding to it”. We can make peace. We can live wholeheartedly. We can bring people together and we can pray:

“Shine your love on us each dawn
and gladden all our days…
Bless the work we do,
Bless the work of our hands”. (Psalm 90)

* Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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“So much sadness and tragedy in the world” Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:02:20 +0000 Clare Condon SGS

Clare Condon SGS

Who amongst our world leaders has the capacity and the skill to engage in a long-term healing process for a wounded world, especially in the Middle East, asks Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

Some years ago following community prayer I noticed that a sister remained behind in her seat. She had tears in her eyes. I approached her and asked what had saddened her. She gave me a reflective smile and simply replied: “It is just a sense of universal grief. There seems to be so much sadness and tragedy in the world”.

We only need to look back on the past few weeks to get a sense of the enormity of the sadness and tragedy in our world. We watched in horror as the deadly bombings in Istanbul and Baghdad cut down innocent people trying to live their daily lives. On television I saw the agony of a man at Istanbul airport who had just seen his three children annihilated by a bomb.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the US there was the shooting of Alton Sterling by police. In St Paul, Minnesota there was the senseless shooting at point-blank range of Philando Castile by a policeman when he was pulled over in his car for a broken tail light. This tragedy was filmed by his partner with her mobile phone. The world witnessed it first-hand. Retaliation followed quickly when a lone gun-man shot dead five policemen and injured seven others in Dallas.

And now, in the past few days, we’ve witnessed more violence and devastation: the terror attack in Nice on Bastille Day and an attempted military coup in Turkey. In Nice at least 84 people are dead and over 100, including children, are injured, while in Turkey, reports suggest 294 people are dead and over 1,000 injured.

What happens to those left behind after these brutal deaths? What of the wives and husbands, the partners and friends, the mothers and fathers, the children and siblings – all those who loved them?

It seems to me that at this time there is an overflowing of grief across the globe, through tragedy after tragedy. What are the consequences of this unremitting grief, pain and aloneness? There is an unresolved universal grief that is gripping whole nations and people; a feeling of universal helplessness in our capacity as humans to heal the gaping wounds.

Kate Jackson, writing in the May-June 2013 issue of Social Work Today, sums up the impact of episodes of mass violence: “Trauma and loss collide in episodes of mass violence. Emotional wreckage for the loved ones of those lost, heartbreak for the first responders, and gaping wounds in communities converge to create a phenomenon distinct from other losses”.

Traumatic grief has its own consequences for individuals. Unlike a natural death, traumatic grief carries sudden and shocking loss, often the viewing of the mutilation of bodies or no identification of loved ones. This is an excruciating experience which has a lifelong impact on those who survive.

However, it also has catastrophic effects on communities and the future of a community or city’s cohesion and well-being. Imagine the fear, the anxiety and despair in Istanbul and Iraq for generations to come. The traumatisation of children in such environments leaves an indelible scar, not only for their own psychological well-being, but significantly, for broader social relationships in the years ahead.

There seems to be considerable research in regard to the mental health impact on individuals who experience mass violence and the loss of loved ones, friends and community members. However, there is less research on the long-term impact on whole communities or nations. What appears to be missing across the globe at this time is a concerted effort to enact international programs and sustained attention to social healing and community-building. Our world desperately needs universal attention to communal grief and trauma.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has produced a handbook entitled Reconciliation After Violent Conflict. In the handbook’s foreword it says:

“There is no handy roadmap for reconciliation. There is no short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence. Creating trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge. It is, however, an essential one to address in the process of building a lasting peace. Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it, and above all transcending it together, is the best way to guarantee that it does not – and cannot – happen again.”

This is a formidable challenge facing our world. It calls for a totally different approach; not one of reciprocal violence, but through sustained peace-making which allows trust and understanding to slowly emerge. It requires the calibre of leadership like that of Nelson Mandela. Where are the new Mandelas? Who amongst our world leaders has the capacity and the skill to engage in a long-term healing process for a wounded world, especially in the Middle East?

* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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Hear the voters: growing inequality matters Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:00:54 +0000 Photo: Dean Chahim via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo: Dean Chahim via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Across the western world, people are revolting against political and economic systems which are demonstrably unfair and which polarise rich and poor. Redemptorist Father Bruce Duncan looks at growing inequality in the US and elsewhere, and how neoliberal philosophy influenced the 2016 Federal election in Australia.

BY Bruce Duncan CSsR*

The July election in Australia has thrown our political parties into disarray, but, in my view, some commentators misread the causes of the public’s disaffection with the main parties.

Right across the western world, democratic peoples are revolting against political and economic systems which are demonstrably unfair and which polarise rich and poor. The Brexit referendum was the most recent surfacing of the anger and resentment of millions of people who feel they have been disenfranchised and bypassed by recent economic and industrial changes.

In the United States, the median wages of full-time male workers have not increased in 40 years, according to the economist Jeffrey Sachs. No wonder so many young people are listening keenly to Bernie Sanders on the left, while many others follow Donald Trump on the right. Both these presidential candidates want to throw out the establishment which not merely tolerated such economic hardship, but also watched the concentration of wealth grow to an unprecedented extreme. The top 1 per cent of Americans now own 22 per cent of total household wealth, up from 7 per cent in the late 1970s.

Nobel laurate Joseph Stiglitz, in his Vanity Fair article (May 2011) “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, brought this inequality to world attention, helping spark the Occupy Wall Street movements protesting corruption and malpractice in financial markets.

But Wall Street seems to have sailed on despite the excesses of the Global Financial Crisis, from which the world has still not recovered. Consider the high unemployment levels in southern and eastern Europe. Eight years after the GFC, Greece still suffers very high youth unemployment of over 50 per cent, with severe impacts on a whole generation. How long can such countries tolerate this?

Globally, Oxfam and others tell us that some 60 or so individuals hold as much wealth as half the entire world population, 3.5 billion people. This is beyond astonishment.

How is this possible? In large part, because of the political philosophy often termed neoliberalism, which over recent decades has allowed many of the rich and powerful to scoop up most of the rewards of economic growth.

This neoliberal philosophy has been strongly promoted in business and political circles in Australia, imported from the United States through powerful corporations and their network of think tanks and media. Traditional Australian conservatives risk being sucked into the neoliberal orbit.

Extreme wealth offers the prospect of very high levels of political influence, with the attendant rent-seeking, political manipulation, corrosion of ethical standards, or outright corruption – as we see in many parts of the world – not to mention the financial and banking scandals, even in Australia.

Australia has fared much better than many other countries, yet we are not strangers to the neoliberal mantra of small government, privatising of government-run businesses and services, deregulating business and finance as much as possible, keeping wages low (except for the managerial class, of course), and promoting free trade agreements, often with dubious outcomes (such as the demise of much manufacturing in Australia).

Certainly, we need to adjust to changing global influences and trade, but the pain of much of this has fallen on the working class, and increasingly too on the once-secure middle classes. Voters are crying out for fair ways to adjust to new circumstances, and not to denigrate those left behind, including the unemployed on their pitiful subsistence Newstart allowance.

These problems are among the most pressing moral issues of our time. With strong support from other religious leaders, Pope Francis, in his 2015 document, Laudato Sí, decried the growing inequality and the seeming indifference of powerful interests to the plight of millions of people in poverty and hunger. He critiqued neoliberal philosophy for the spoliation of global resources, and warned about the increasing impact of global warming. In the Australian election campaign, these calls to prioritise sustainability in economics and lifestyle were, alas, largely sidelined.

As Ross Gittins pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 4, voters revolted at the vague Coalition ‘plan’ for ‘jobs and growth’, along with tax cuts for the wealthy. Many voters did not want to lose the security of Medicare and a quality public health system, along with decent education for all our children.

The Coalition rhetoric about the urgency of cutting Australian debt is greatly exaggerated, and concentrating on cutting social spending in effect transfers wealth from ordinary Australians to high-income groups. As Kenneth Davidson wrote in The Age of June 26, our governments should be taking advantage of very low borrowing costs to invest in productive infrastructure programs urgently needed by the country.

The Coalition’s determination to continue major cuts to services, hospitals, and education, while giving massive tax advantages to the wealthy – especially in superannuation and reduced company taxes – seemed simply outrageous, and not just to those on struggle street, trying to manage housing stress, with insecure casual or part-time jobs, student debts, loss of jobs in manufacturing, rural decline, or disadvantage. People over 45 also face extra difficulties retraining or finding suitable work.

As Gittins wrote, we cannot fix “the budget until we’re prepared to increase tax as well as cut spending and, in the process, share the burden more fairly between the top, middle and bottom”. Yet the Coalition “acted as though fixing the deficit by increasing taxes or cutting concessions was economic and political anathema”.

What could cause such political inanity? Could it be a severe bout of neoliberal flu?

* Redemptorist Father Bruce Duncan is one of the founders of Social Policy Connections, an independent ecumenical network based in Melbourne. He studied economics and politics at the University of Sydney, completing his doctorate in political science in 1987. He has lectured in history and social ethics at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne since 1986.

This article was first published on the blog Social Policy Connections.

Photo: Dean Chahim via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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National award for Japanese sister’s overseas service Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:00:22 +0000 Sister Hiro Kageyama receives her award from Japan’s First Lady, Ms Akie Abe Photo: FESCO

Sister Hiro Kageyama receives her award from Japan’s First Lady, Ms Akie Abe
Photo: FESCO

Sister Hiro Kageyama, who, in 1957 became the first Japanese woman to be professed as a Sister of the Good Samaritan, has been honoured by her home country with an award recognising her many years of overseas service for people in need, especially in the Philippines.

Hiro travelled to Tokyo earlier this month with Sister Anne Dixon, with whom she lives and ministers in the Philippines, to accept the award from the Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution (FESCO).

“It was very unexpected,” she said. “And my main feelings about it were just inexpressible, deep gratitude to God, my parents, my Congregation and communities, and innumerable supporters, for my long life both in Japan and outside Japan, especially Australia and the Philippines, for their kind loving assistance.

“I was also very happy because the nature of this award is for social contribution, which means helping others, and as Sisters of the Good Samaritan, that is what we try to do.

“I think God allows us to feel happy when we help others, as a little taste of heaven.”

Hiro joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 1955 after meeting the late Sister Mary Catherine Teresa Mercovich, who was ministering in Nagasaki.

“I had been with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart for all my school education, but somehow God wanted differently,” she said.

Sister Hiro in Tokyo earlier this month to receive her award Photo: FESCO

Sister Hiro in Tokyo earlier this month to receive her award
Photo: FESCO

She spent many years working as both a teacher and principal at the Seiwa School, in Sasebo City, Nagasaki Ken, which was run by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, before spending some time at the mother house in Nara working in formation. After another period at Seiwa, she was appointed provincial for the Japan Province, a position she held for 10 years.

When she retired as provincial in 1994, Hiro ministered in the Philippines from 1994 to 2001 and again from 2012 to the present.

Over those years Hiro has worked with the Good Samaritan community and their partners in ministry in a variety of projects, including providing assistance with nutrition programs for children and religious education programs.

Hiro is currently involved in the ongoing development of the Good Samaritan Kinder School and the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre in Bacolod. She also supports an educational scholarship program, serves on the Diocesan Commission of Family and Life, provides pre-marriage education for Japanese and Filipino couples, and teaches Japanese to students.

Hiro said she loves her work with the people of Bacolod on Negros Island in the Philippines.

“The work we do is not just to help people out, but also to build up self-reliance and sustainability,” she said.

“If we help them to learn ways of living so that they can sustain themselves, especially the mothers, then we are helping to build up the community for the long-term.”

Hiro said she was thrilled to be at the award presentation in Tokyo, which was attended by Her Imperial Highness, Princess Yoko, and more than 400 other people. Hiro received her award from Japan’s First Lady, Ms Akie Abe, who is Chairperson of the Foundation for Encouragement of Social Contribution. She was also “extra happy” to be treated to a celebration by her many friends at the Seiwa School, before the award ceremony.

“I was deeply impressed and moved by the other awardees’ dedicated, compassionate action and activities for the needy. They really deepened my insight into social service,” she said.

“And also, I think my father would be very happy in heaven, because he always told me to be helpful for society, to study hard and work hard for society. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart also emphasised this at school, and then of course, I entered the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who are all about the neighbour, helping other people and having compassion for people.

“So when I look at my life, I see that God arranged this. Somehow, God prepared one road from my childhood and I have been walking a road of social contribution, whether I was aware of it or not.

“Other people are so important. We are all sisters and brothers.”

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26th chapter gathering set for September 2017 Mon, 18 Jul 2016 14:00:10 +0000 26th chapter logo Artwork: Geraldine Kearney SGS

26th chapter logo
Artwork: Geraldine Kearney SGS

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan have formally commenced a 15-month discernment process which will culminate in their 26th chapter gathering in September 2017.

On the Feast of St Benedict, July 11, Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon proclaimed the 26th chapter gathering during evening prayer in St Scholastica’s Chapel, Glebe in Sydney, and called all sisters “to a new place of personal and communal renewal and to be enlivened afresh by our charism and heritage”.

“Today is our time,” said Clare. “Today I call each one of us to earnest and sincere preparation for our chapter gathering in September 2017.”

Good Samaritan Sisters in their various communities throughout Australia and in Japan, the Philippines and Kiribati joined in prayerful solidarity with Clare and about 70 sisters, oblates and friends gathered at Glebe.

In the life of a religious congregation a chapter is a major discernment process and event – a time for members to take stock, come together, set future directions and elect new leadership. For the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, chapters are held every six years.

“When gathered in chapter the group is collegial. Major decisions for the life of the group are made at a chapter,” said Clare.

“Setting the direction for the next six years is the key component and then electing leadership that can lead the congregation – that is, every sister – in fulfilling those directions.”

Clare said over the next 15 months sisters will be asked to participate in consultation and discernment about the key directions and matters which will form the basis of the chapter gathering.

“Oblates, associates and partners in ministry will also be invited to participate in consultation and key moments in the life of the congregation,” she said.

“2017 marks 160 years of the congregation, so it will be a significant year for us.”

Guiding the consultation and discernment process over the next 15 months will be the Congregation’s Chapter Planning Committee and two external facilitators, Donna Fyffe and Catherine Schneider OSF, both experienced process consultants and facilitators from the US.

It is still early days in the process, but according to Sister Patty Fawkner, Chair of the Chapter Planning Committee, the response from sisters so far has been “very positive” and “encouraging” for the four-member committee, which includes Sisters Helen Anderson, Leonie Duenas and Meg Kahler.

“They enjoyed the discussions about the three questions that were endeavouring to uncover significant aspects of our life and mission at this time: As a congregation, when are we at our best? What are our angsts? And if we had a magic wand and wished to change something about the congregation, what would you change and why,” said Patty.

“We’ve also been told that they enjoy our brief one-page update we send out after each of our meetings. We were planning to send a longer bulletin, but the feedback has told us to stick to one page.

“Each month we ring a different person from each area community to seek their feedback and advice. Sisters have appreciated our readiness to consult them and respond to their feedback.”

When comparing the 26th chapter with previous chapters, Patty could identify two differences.
“In previous chapters we have stayed in various convents around Sydney and travelled to St Scholastica’s [Glebe] daily. This time about half of us will be staying onsite while the rest will be staying in a nearby hotel.

“Chapters require a level of physical and mental energy, so we’re hoping that this arrangement will facilitate sisters’ participation,” she said.

“Another change is that we’ll be involving key people beyond the congregation as we explore the future of Good Samaritan life and mission for these times. We’ll be talking with oblates and partners in ministry, many of the people who work alongside the sisters and are imbued with the Good Sam-Benedictine spirit.

“We want to make sure that we access their experience, wisdom and vision as we try to respond as best we can, as Polding said in a memorable line, ‘to be ministers of Christ’s mercy, and messengers of Christ’s compassion’.”

The Good Samaritan Sisters’ chapter gathering will be held at Baulkham Hills in Sydney from September 23 to October 2, 2017.

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Iran experience “an opportunity of a lifetime” Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:25:38 +0000 Lorraine Victorsen SGS Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

Lorraine Victorsen SGS
Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

Many women might feel a little daunted by the prospect of travelling solo to Iran to participate in an international, inter-religious dialogue among mostly male Muslim scholars and Benedictine monks; but not so for Brisbane Good Samaritan Sister Lorraine Victorsen.

For many years Lorraine has remained steadfastly committed to learning about and engaging in inter-religious dialogue. So when an email arrived in her inbox “out of the blue”, suggesting she consider participating in a Benedictine-Shi’a Muslim dialogue in the Iranian city of Qom, the largest centre for Shi’a scholarship in the world, it was a “gift” she couldn’t refuse.

“I considered this an opportunity of a lifetime to learn more about Islam from a Shi’a perspective, to really experience dialogue in a totally different environment where I was not part of the dominant culture,” explained Lorraine.

She also felt it would be “a great privilege” to be part of “such a vital, contemporary Benedictine project”.

Lorraine travelled to Iran last month to participate in the seventh Benedictine-Shi’a Muslim Conference – and the experience did not disappoint her.

Speaking to The Good Oil earlier this month, Lorraine said it was “an amazing opportunity”, “extraordinarily beneficial” and “very enriching”.

“It was also intellectually very challenging because the other participants were scholars and international leaders in inter-religious dialogue,” she said.

In the true spirit of inter-religious dialogue, Lorraine said she returned with a stronger appreciation of her Catholic tradition, and greater reverence and respect for Shi’a Muslims.

Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

“Hopefully, I’m also a better human being, having experienced such amazing hospitality, respect, friendship, acceptance as ‘the stranger’ – all qualities we aspire to as Good Samaritans who follow the Rule of Benedict,” she said.

“The experience of being with this monastic group gave me greater appreciation of our Benedictine heritage. I thank God that the Benedictines took the initiative to engage in this particular dialogue.”

The only female Benedictine in the group, Lorraine was also the only Australian. Other nations represented among the seven Benedictines, were France, Germany, Kenya, the UK and the USA. And while the Iranian members of the group were mostly men, there were also women participants, some of whom were theological students.

During the six-day gathering, Shi’a and Benedictine scholars, drawing on their respective sacred texts, delivered a series of lectures that explored the theme “The Dignity of Being Human”. Discussions in small groups afterwards, according to Lorraine, were honest, respectful and fruitful, and the participants – Lorraine included – didn’t avoid difficult issues.

“If we’re talking about human dignity and people’s human rights, we must deal with some of these difficult issues,” said Lorraine.

Religious and spiritual issues discussed included the place of prayer in daily life, spirituality, mysticism and pilgrimage, while broader societal issues included human trafficking, freedom of religion, honour killing and capital punishment.

Lorraine said on most topics there was agreement, but not surprisingly, there were also differences of opinion at times.

“Everybody was happy that we agree on some things, we are similar in some areas, and there are some things we will probably never agree on, but we are still able to respect each other’s position,” she said.

Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

Photo: International Institute for Islamic Studies, Qom

While in Qom, the group visited important national sites, museums, shrines and some of the 300-plus educational institutes that comprise the Qom Seminary.

After three days in Qom, the group then travelled to the pilgrim city of Mashhad, about 1,000 kilometres north-east of Tehran, to visit the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, the largest shrine and mosque in the world.

It was here that Lorraine experienced a “really magic moment” that has remained with her strongly.

“We were leaving the mosque area when the call to prayer was announced – and naturally, all Muslims in the area prepared to pray, including our host Mohammod and his wife. We Benedictines also turned towards Mecca and just stood in prayer,” said Lorraine.

As she prayed Lorraine thought, “We’re all praying in the way we know. We’re not praying in the same way, but we’re praying together”. For her, this experience exemplified what inter-religious relations are all about.

Generally held every two years, the Benedictine-Shi’a Muslim gatherings began in England in 2003 as Christian-Shi’a Muslim dialogues under the leadership of Benedictine Abbot Timothy Wright of Ampleforth Abbey in England and Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali, Director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qom and the Head of the Islamic Centre of England.

From 2011 the gatherings became specifically Benedictine-Shi’a dialogues and have been held in Rome (2011), Qom and Isfahan (2012), and Assisi and Rome (2014). The next gathering is planned for 2017 at the monastery of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing in Nairobi, Kenya.

“They’ve worked together to develop a wonderful relationship,” said Lorraine. “This is really a very successful inter-religious initiative.”

A short video filmed during the group’s visit to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, Mashhad, which includes interviews with Sister Lorraine Victorsen SGS and Abbot Timothy Wright OSB, can be viewed here.

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