A group of parishioners from St Mary of the Angels Catholic community in Port Lincoln, South Australia, have responded wholeheartedly to the question posed by the lawyer to Jesus: “who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:25-29).
Early next month, the five parishioners, along with their parish priest, Father Brian Mathews, will head off to the remote island nation of Kiribati where they’ll work voluntarily for two weeks alongside their Pacific ‘neighbours’ renovating parts of the Good Samaritan community buildings and early childhood centre at Abaokoro on North Tarawa.
Father Brian, the main link between the Abaokoro community and the Port Lincoln parish, is a long-time friend of Good Samaritan Sisters Bernadette Corboy (who lived in Kiribati from 1997 to 2007) and Marie O’Shea (who has been living in Kiribati since 2006).
When he first travelled to Kiribati in 2005, Brian “fell in love” with the country and its people, and since then, has continued to support the community there wherever possible.
Last year, he and another Port Lincoln parishioner spent 12 days in Kiribati helping out with various maintenance tasks and some community outreach work in Abaokoro. During that time, the pair noticed some of the buildings were in need of repair. So they photographed and took measurements, and on their return to Port Lincoln, presented their findings to the parish.
As a result, five people, including an architect, a builder and a cabinet maker, volunteered to travel to Kiribati in July this year to help out with the renovations.
According to a very grateful Marie, the main task will be to remove sections of rotted timber in some of the Good Samaritan buildings and replace it with aluminium.
“Ataniman who works for us, and with his wife Eretia and five daughters who live on the [Good Samaritan] property, will also be working with the group,” said Marie.
“Other locals, if we need them, will be available to help. We are hoping they will learn new skills and be able to carry on with unfinished work.”
It’s Brian’s hope that a permanent connection will be forged between the Port Lincoln parish and the Abaokoro community.
“There are a lot of similarities; we’re both on the water, we’ve both got fishing in common,” he said. “We’re very different I suppose in lots of other ways.”
For Brian, personally, having a connection with Kiribati has been “a really good thing”.
“It’s given me a broader understanding of the world, the different people and the issues they face. I often get a bit concerned when people don’t take any notice of the fact that our climate is changing and that those changes are certainly affecting the lives of the people in Kiribati, and particularly on Tarawa.
“So whatever people think of the [climate change] debate, you’ve only got to go over there and have a look for yourself, it’s pretty obvious.”
The team from St Mary of the Angels will be in Kiribati from July 2 to 16. Brian said they are all “very much looking forward” to the experience.
“We can’t wait to get away from the cold!”