September 2023

Being Neighbour – one leader’s perspective

Like the Samaritan in the parable, we are called to look, to see, and to respond to the neighbour on the way, especially the neighbour left abandoned, writes Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill.

A ’Good Samaritan’ is a good neighbour. The term Good Samaritan is used and known this way. When we see a headline, we anticipate a story of heroism or at least of reaching out beyond the normal bounds of human expectation. Furthermore, we expect altruism and humility, no requirement of reciprocity or accolades.

So what about me? How am I to be Good Samaritan? How am I to be leader of other Good Samaritans? How are we to be Good Samaritans now, where we live and minister, in collaboration with each other and with our many partners?

I stand on the brink of a new moment in time. As the newly elected, not yet installed, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict. This is a privileged moment of reflection.

We have just had our Chapter Gathering. Sisters from the Philippines, Kiribati, Japan and Australia were joined by Oblates, ministry partners and senior staff to discern our future directions. We are rightly proud of the outcome:

Gifted by our Good Samaritan Benedictine charism, we are committed to living our relationship with God, neighbour and the universe through:

ecological conversion which impels;

interculturality which transforms;

compassion which leads to justice;

hope which empowers mission.

So this is my context. To be neighbour, to foster this mission, these directions for the sake of all creation.

For me and for all of us, there is a lens through which we see our neighbour – a living, loving relationship with God. We are eager in our seeking of God, we are urged and called by that God to look and see and know that all creation is “indeed very good.”

The call to be neighbour is urgent.

At this particular moment, we are halfway through the Season of Creation. We eagerly await the publication by Pope Francis of his new Apostolic Exhortation, “a second Laudato Si’.” In making this announcement, Francis pleads that we “unite our brothers and sisters in the commitment to safeguard creation, as a sacred gift of the Creator.”

So here is a task for this leader. Firstly, my own ongoing commitment to ecological conversion is paramount. Conversion is not automatic and is never finalised. It can be messy and disruptive. There are moments of deep passion and insight, strength and energy for mission. 

As Good Samaritans, we have committed to this journey for the sake of our common home; the earth itself is our neighbour. It is now battered and bruised. The call from our Pacific neighbours is urgent. I hope that through various partnerships and the use of our resources, we can stand firmly with these communities as friend and advocate. This is my commitment as leader.

In Australia, in less than a month we will vote in a referendum that proposes to change the Australian Constitution. The amendment is in response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for the “establishment of a First Nations Voice” to parliament. To the dismay of many, our politicians have failed to ensure bipartisan support.  

Over recent weeks, I have been involved in numerous conversations about this referendum. The responses are varied – voters and opinions in the Yes and No camps. A school-aged member of my family voiced strong opinions, so my challenge was, “Have you had a conversation with any of the Indigenous kids in your school?” I believe our task is to talk respectfully, to read and inform ourselves.

A Yes vote may not unite all Australians, as did the Indigenous rights’ referendum of 1967. For the first time since Europeans arrived in Australia, that change to the Constitution recognised the citizenship of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers.

However, I believe a No vote is unthinkable. I would be ashamed of my country if that were to happen. In the words of Frank Brennan SJ, I hope that “we can get the country to Yes despite the failings of the process.”

This is the task of leadership: to promote dialogue, to engage the Good Samaritan community in conversation and discernment that respects all persons. We have committed to interculturality which transforms. These encounters and conversations will transform us and, I hope, make us more compassionate neighbours.

In the past few days, our Sisters in Bacolod in the Philippines have spoken of yet another fire  in their neighbouring suburbs. This is the third fire in recent months. They know what is needed – underwear, drinking water, eating utensils – and the response from the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre is immediate and compassionate.

Wherever we Good Samaritans find ourselves, we encourage each other to compassionate responses. Like the Samaritan in the parable, we are called to look, to see, and to respond to the neighbour on the way, especially the neighbour left abandoned.

There are so many contexts: aged facilities where we live, refugees and asylum seekers in detention and the community, women and children abused and put aside, members of the LGBTIQA+ community, disillusioned members of our faith communities. The possibilities are endless.

We are part of this list. We know and experience the kindness of others in many of these contexts. In so many places we, too, experience the tenderness of our God.

So as I assume a leadership role, this is my perspective. With the encouragement of the Good Samaritan community, my task is clear: to be a source of unity, to encourage actions and words, to witness to resurrection hope.

From my perspective and my own experience, I can echo the words of Pope Francis: “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to our own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (LS #14). This is being a Good Samaritan.


Catherine McCahill

Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She has served on the Congregation's leadership team since 2011. Catherine has been involved in education for more than 30 years, in secondary schools and, more recently, at a tertiary level in biblical studies and religious education.

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