By Eric Martin
The West Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (WACMRO) has this year designed and implemented an outreach programme that effectively combines aspects of faith formation and community in a manner that meets Parish Council, Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) and Archdiocesan Plan 2016-21 objectives.
The “Draw Near” SMART programme was rolled out in the Catholic community of Innaloo-Karrinyup, an initiative to help alleviate hardship among the local community’s asylum seekers and international students, a demographic that has been economically brutalised by the arrival of the coronavirus.
It brought together WACMRO, Innaloo-Karrinyup Parish including St Dominic’s Primary School Innaloo, Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) Catholic Primary School Karrinyup, Newman College Churchlands, and the St Vincent de Paul Society.
WACMRO Director Deacon Greg Lowe said the programme was “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – short, sharp and with a clear exit strategy”.
There are three stages of “Draw Near”: The Faith Project, the Social Reality Project, and the Outreach Project, with each of the stages meeting key objectives outlined in both the Archdiocesan and Parish Council strategic plans.
“The difference here is that we ran Faith Retreat Presentations, ‘Gospel and Vulnerable People,’ and we ran ‘Social Reality Master Classes’, which linked Catholic Social Teaching and the hard data,” Dcn Lowe said.
“The data is really important – it’s not fake news and it presents a reality that is apparent, so the parishioner, parent and student know that we’re talking about real humans.”
The best thing about the programme is that it is easily modified to meet the requirements of other agencies pursuing the objectives outlined in their own parish and community engagement strategies as part of the Archdiocesan Plan.
The Draw Near Programme is part of the Welcoming Parish Communities Initiative and is designed to support sections 2.2.4 and 2.2.6 of the Archdiocesan Plan.
“Before we do the outreach, we present the social reality, then we match that against the light of the Gospel: it became clear that the ‘person in need’ was any person in need,” Dcn Lowe added.
Supported by thorough, accurate research, WACMRO was able to present detailed data, drilling down in a specific manner to the postcode level.
“And that’s why Draw Near is a place-based approach to outreach – if the outreach and hospitality is only a walk away, it’s so much more likely that [asylum seekers] will engage with it – they want to feel safe and they want to belong,” Dcn Lowe explained.
“It gives parishioners an opportunity to reflect on their faith and participate in outreach, for the school principals it makes PD options available and for the parish priests, it offers seminars and workshops to help enliven what the parish is doing. We can prepare it and deliver it all for them – it ticks a lot of boxes for the community with concrete outcomes.”
Innaloo-Karrinyup Parish Priest Father Bernard Lanarolle believes Catholics have a sacred mission from Christ to bring hope and practical love to those in need and highlighted the opportunity for cooperation amongst the schools, the Church, and the agencies.
“This was very much a team effort from all quarters of our parish and includes the contribution of the wider Parish,” Fr Lanarolle stated.
“These input sessions empower people through education, increasing understanding and removing any fear of the unknown – our understanding of the human person, especially the asylum seeker, is heavily informed by [on average] some 20 years of media politicisation of that social issue,” Dcn Lowe shared.
“The good that we’re doing is only small, but it’s still necessary.”
Similarly, the programme includes a two-hour professional development for school staff on ‘Catholic Social Teaching and the Vulnerable Person’ and ‘Catholic Social Teaching and the Person seeking Asylum in Perth’.
“They relate to the humanity that you are presenting. It helps the parish grow and mature in their faith, and an understanding that God is in charge.”