Priests seek out PD

15 Oct 2008

By The Record

Pastoral care seminar helps priests skill-up for key area of ‘business’.


Intent: Fr Nicholas Nweke, Deacon Bruce Talbot, Fr Chien Nguyen and Fr Nicholas Po listen to the conference on pastoral care. Photo: Robert Hiini


By Robert Hiini
Professional development has been all the rage in the corporate world for the past 25 years, but priests can also benefit from experts in areas such as pastoral care of the sick and dying.
Priests gathered on October 8–9 at the Vietnamese Catholic Community Centre in Westminister for a seminar on pastoral care and the cultural challenges it represents, both to priests and the people they are ministering to. 
The seminar included workshops on death and mortality, self-care, women’s issues, the practicality of funerals and speaking the Word of God, delivered by practising specialists.
The seminar was organised by Fr John Ryan, the Episcopal Vicar for Health who has worked in the field as a hospital chaplain and a parish priest for over 30 years.
Archbishop Barry Hickey asked any priest ordained 10 years or less from both Australian and overseas backgrounds to attend the seminar.
It was attended by both parish and assistant priests as well as several hospital chaplains.
Fr Ryan says that the underlying driver of the seminar was the central place that pastoral care to the sick and dying must have in the mission of a priest.
“It’s about being sensitive to people’s needs; being quick to respond to a call for help from a parishioner,” Fr Ryan says.
In practical terms, this represents a challenge that would be daunting for any person; “to bring the compassion of Christ indicating that he cares, that he is trying to understand, to be supportive of people, to offer the sacraments if it is appropriate, sometimes just to be a presence.”
Fr Ryan says that “in an age when we all have to be entertained and laughing all the time”, a lot of people are not prepared for death when it comes to a beloved family member or friend. This makes the job of a priest that much more difficult.
Rosemary Keenan, a nurse, counsellor and lecturer at Curtin University’s School of Nursing gave a workshop focusing on the experience of women and how a priest can best care for women and couples.
“Women do experience grief in a different way especially around child bearing,” Ms Keenan said. She explained that it is important to be attuned to gender in the different way that women experience reality and gave the priests tips on how they could show the greatest degree of sensitivity.
She says that while a lot of pastoral care comes down to on-the-job training, priests facing difficult pastoral situations involving women and childbirth can speak to King Edward or St John of God Hospitals, their brother priests or a trusted counselor. The seminar also broached the sensitive issue of a priest’s accent and the difficulties that priests and parishioners might have in communicating with one another. Fr Ryan announced that speech therapy would be made available to any priest who requested it but also said that parishioners ought to give their priests constructive feedback and affirmation regarding their speech.
Fr Pavel Herda, who was ordained in June this year, and Fr Gavin Gomez, parish priest of St Bernadette’s, Port Kennedy said that they found the seminar to be a positive experience.
Both men are engaged in the care of the sick and dying as well as ministering to their families.
Fr Herda says that this is often difficult, particularly in tragic circumstances: “Sometimes people want immediate answers…you just find yourself helpless but you can help them and listen to them and you can learn from them.”
Fr Gomez agrees: “Just being present there sometimes, is the best thing you can do.”