By Paul Gray
Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Mark Coleridge will deliver a keynote address at a national gathering of major Catholic welfare agencies in Melbourne next week.
The gathering, hosted by Australian Catholic University, is intended to
examine the question of Catholic identity in the work of Catholic
groups active in the health, education and social service sectors.
Ahead of the meeting, a clear signal about the purpose of social
service work was sent by Parramatta Bishop Kevin Manning at a social
welfare gathering in Sydney last week.
Addressing the 2008 Social Welfare Employment Relations Biennial
Conference, Bishop Manning said the primary mission of the Church in
the area of social service is to “continue the work of Christ.”
This is done by acknowledging the dignity of each person, by calling
them to be fully alive and by reaching out to those who are “poor,
underprivileged or marginalized in society,” the bishop said.
Bishop Manning said all of us want life to the full, but many people
are held back by circumstances from having that possibility. “It is the
role of Catholic social services to be people of hope, who can lead all
to this possibility,” he said.
He said Jesus restored the dignity of those he encountered on earth,
such as the blind and the lame, and thus “enabled them to move
The bishop added: “Emulating this behaviour is the challenge for
Catholic social service practitioners, where you become the face and
presence of Christ for all whom you encounter, regardless of their
Bishop Manning said many social services clients have little
“experiential knowledge” of what the Church calls the indestructible
power of love. “It is your challenge to enable them to experience a
glimpse of it in some way,” he told the Catholc agencies.
Catholic social services should help clients recover, or become aware
of a sense of being a human person loved by God. “This is the mission,
and was the ministry and example of Christ.”
The bishop warned that working in institutions means that the “very
core” matter of service is sometimes pushed to the backburner. “So I
urge you to keep the person of Christ aflame on the front burner, or
hotplate, because, to the other, you are the person of Christ.”
Bishop Manning also urged Catholic welfare agencies to seriously
consider the provision of services to rural Australia, which he said is
being “starved at all levels of service.”
In a challenge to social service employees to be explicit about their
faith, Bishop Manning said a “specific formation” is needed for
Catholic welfare workers.
Many of the workers in Catholic Social Services Australia today are not
Christian, and this presents an opportunity “to evangelise these people
who are not Christians,” he said.
Catholic welfare workers should ask themselves if they provide good
modelling of the faith in their personal lives, the bishop said.
Leaders, in particular, should “regularly make explicit the connections
between Catholic faith and the philosophy and organisational ethos of
Leaders and Catholic welfare staff should make the habit of regularly
sharing and talking among themselves about their faith, he said.
Next week’s gathering at Australian Catholic University will take a
broad-range view of the meaning of Catholic identity in welfare work.
The meeting, titled the second Colloquium on Mission and Identity in
Church-Based Organisations, is co-sponsored by the Australian Catholic
Bishops Conference, Catholic Church Insurances Ltd, Catholic Health
Australia, the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Catholic Religious
Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia and the National Catholic
In addition to Archbishop Coleridge, keynote speakers will be Ms Julie
Fewster from Jesuit Social Services and Ms Therese Vassarotti from
Catholic Health Australia.
The Pro-Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, Prof
Gabrielle McMullen, said several key issues face Catholic organisations
These include “succession planning, engaging with the marginalized and
strengthening our leadership to build broad-based collaborative
support,” she said.