Catherine McAuley Lecture panels 2014
Where ‘Justice and Mercy’ meet in our neighbourhood, communities and country
The 2014 Catherine McAuley Lecture was presented by local panellists in Auckland and Wellington during July.
In Auckland Mercy sisters and local community workers gathered to hear the voices of five key people, working in local neighbourhoods and communities to help people who struggle with the everyday reality of one or all of the following: no food, no home, no job and escalating debt.
Te Waipuna Puawai, a community development initiative of Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand, hosted the event on 15 July.
Information from the NZ Council of Christian Social Services programme Whakatata Mai Closer Together on inequality in New Zealand was presented by Puamiria Maaka CEO of Te Waipuna Puawai (pictured above at the table), to context the panel presentation.
The inequality gap between the ‘haves and have-nots’ has widened over the last thirty years. New Zealand has gone from one of the most equal to one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. Our perception of a clean green country that is tolerant of all people hides the reality of:
• twice as many children in poverty than 30 years ago (285,000 children)
• third world levels of infectious disease
• increased mental health needs and
• increased educational underachievement.
We then heard from four people (pictured left to right above) currently working alongside some of the most vulnerable in the Glen Innes community – they shared stories, perspectives and wisdom around the impact of poverty and injustice
• Josephine Bartley – Consumer Affairs Lawyer and member of the Maungakiekie – Tamaki Local Board with a particular interest in youth at risk.
• Cristy Trewartha – Coordinator of the Healthy Relationships in Tamaki movement (HEART) which aims to promote healthy relationships and prevent family violence.
• Danielle Bergin, Coordinator of Island Child Community Trust, Glen Innes.
• Chris Dale,Manager of East Auckland Home and Budget Service who spoke about the budgeting and the community initiative Growing Financial Independence in Tamaki (G-FIT).
The panel provided valuable insights and challenges for Sisters of Mercy and companions in mission as they prepare to meet together in September during the congregation Chapter.
Michele Lafferty (chair) with the panel: Rob Devlin sm, Catherine Hallagan (inset) Heath Hutton, Sam Caldwell, Teresa Homan, Doreen O’Sullivan, Bernie Fiafua Afemata, Mary-Ann Greaney, Esther Saldana, Catherine Hannan dolc, Lisa Beech, Costasiya and her supporter, Teresa.
In Wellington twelve people offered their stories, perspectives and wisdom, making for a most informative and challenging experience. Several, had first-hand experience of living with poverty in their own lives.
Panellists were asked to address two questions:
a. From where I stand (as a prison visitor, beneficiary advocate etc), poverty and injustice look like/feel like/sound like/smell like/taste like …
b. Something that would make a positive difference for someone like me/the people I am in contact with would be…
What we, the listeners heard, was most challenging.
Mary-Ann Greaney who addressed the 2012 United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, invited us to ask ourselves, before offering assistance, “How will this action promote the dignity of the other?” She suggested that giving cast-offs does not do this, but giving new items does.
Dr Catherine Hallagan, a director of the Tawa Medical Practice, told us that for her the face of those who struggle for social justice is predominately new New Zealanders and that poverty is often dressed in the guise of serious addictions derived from living with chronic anxiety.
The next speaker was Heath Hutton from Challenge 2000, a Catholic Social Work Agency. He and Bernie Faifua Afemata who is a social worker at Bishop Viard College provided daunting insights into the way poverty impacts the lives of young people and families. What is it like for a family when they do not have the funding to bury a loved one? Both these young adults spoke of Catherine McAuley and their commitment to the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Strong political messages were also given. Sister Catherine Hannan dolc challenged us to speak out against the lack of government funding for the family reunification process. Most of this money has to be privately raised by refugees and their supporters even when they are able to show they are working well and contributing to our country.
Teresa Homan spoke strongly about the plight of beneficiaries. Stereotyping (dole bludger, lazy, addict etc) does a lot of damage to individuals. She shocked many by holding up placards showing the benefit levels beneficiaries receive, followed by the expenses of the Secretary of Treasury for last year. The gap was huge. Her challenge in this election year is to ask political parties what their plan is to provide adequate living expenses for beneficiaries.
We all were urged to find out about the work of and to read the report produced by the Child Poverty Monitor organisation www.childpoverty.co.nz Sam Caldwell pointed out that debt causes debt as, when a person in debt needs something, they have to resort to the most expensive option when they have no ready money.
“Would you like to be forgiven only three times?” asked Esther Saldana. Prisoners have high emotional needs and most of them have been abused, judged and condemned all their lives. She invited us to write to a prisoner, to visit a prisoner or to become a prison tutor to offer learning for future reintegration into society.
Lisa Beech from Caritas and Doreen O’Sullivan, Principal of St Anne’s School, spoke from their experiences of working with those below the poverty line. Lisa was especially passionate about housing conditions. To her, poverty is cold. There is inequitable access to warmth in our country. Using a cheap heater takes a lot of power to heat 30 centimetres around it whereas proper insulation would change a family’s life and health. Doreen spoke about the obvious faces of poverty like lack of food and clothing. However, there are less obvious faces…. National Standards in schools, which force a newly arrived migrant or refugee to be rated alongside those who are born English speakers with a stable life. Catholic Attendance Dues are likewise the same across all student populations. She spoke about New Zealanders sponsoring a child at $10 a week with World Vision and asked why we could not sponsor a Catholic child at $10 a week to stay in a Catholic school.
A refugee, Costasiya, sat with us as Teresa, her family support worker, spoke her story for her. The room went very quiet as we heard the terrible journey she and some of her family had before they arrived here and about the ongoing challenge of trying to gather more of her family from war torn countries. Teresa finished with a word of her own… ”Aren’t we privileged to sprinkle this family with acts of mercy and justice that will bring hope and healing into their lives!”
Fr Rob Devlin was our final panellist. He too spoke to us of the privilege of being in his chaplaincy ministry at the Compassion Centre. He quoted the poet Rumi: “Abundance is seeking the beggars and the poor, just as beauty seeks a mirror. Beggars, then, are the mirrors of God’s abundance. And they that are with God are united with Absolute Abundance”. When he asked some of the guests at the Compassion Centre what would make a positive difference for them, the replies he received were kindness, work and housing.
As we finished the afternoon with thanks, prayer and a good cup of tea, all were very thoughtful and most stimulated, determined to go out and make a difference.
Mea ana te atawhai haere mai i runga i te aroha me te awhi
Mercy invites us to love and to care