How do you interpret the words ‘Do not fear for I am with you’? This was the question posed to attendees of the launch of World Mission Month – an annual occasion which celebrates stories of mission around the world, the power of collective charity and generous intentions.
This year, the words of Isaiah 41:10 inspired the theme of the event, which marked a special milestone. In 2019, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV's Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud, Pope Francis announced that October would, from that point, be known as The Extraordinary Missionary Month - a worldwide occasion of prayer, stories of mission, formation and charity.
To celebrate, students and staff from every school across the Wollongong Diocese gathered at St John the Evangelist Catholic High School in Nowra for the Diocesan Launch, led by Fr Brian Lucas [pictured below], National Director of Catholic Mission.
St John's Principal, Sandra Hogan, personally welcomed all present. Attendees were asked to reflect on the role of missionaries worldwide including the work of Catholic Mission - the Pope’s official mission agency.
In 2019, the organisation’s Schools Appeal focuses on a partnership with Nazareth Home for God’s Children in the Yendi Diocese in the northern region of Ghana. The Church is providing life-saving care to Ghanaian children with disabilities, led by inspiring missionary, Sister Stan Mumuni, who works with vulnerable babies and children running the Nazareth Home for God’s Children - a haven where children are given shelter, meals, healthcare and education as well as unconditional love.
“We heard about some of the realities of life in Ghana for school-aged children and we began to realise just how fortunate we are,” said Year 6 students from St Thomas More Ruse, Jonah, Imogen and Serafim.
CEDoW Education Officer, Catherine Hailstone, said that CEDoW schools have been proud supporters of Catholic Mission’s World Mission Month Appeal for many years. “As teachers and students, we understand the difference an education can make to the lives of young people,” Mrs Hailstone said. “The student participation, predominantly by students from St John’s, brought our liturgy to life this year.”
Memorable moments included the Acknowledgement to Country organised by St John's staff Christine Campbell, Jo Coleman, Leland Foster and Chris Hall, the choir under the direction of teacher, Abbey Baker and Religious Education Coordinator, David Comensoli; and also a student drama enactment of the Gospel reading under the guidance of teacher, Mark Burian.
During the launch, special guests, Fr Lucas and Monsignor Thomas Anamooh, a guest speaker from Ghana, were invited to present each school with a bag containing fundraising information and a gift - a traditional music instrument called a ‘kiss kass’, handwoven in the Bolgatanga region of Northern Ghana from elephant grass.
As a sign of CEDoW’s commitment to support the work of Catholic Mission, in a ritual undertaken in silence, students changed symbols on the focused space set at the start of the liturgy - worn jeans replaced with a mission box; a hessian bag, with a text book, pens and pencils; and an image of a teardrop, with an image of a dove.
Significant thanks were given to David Comensoli and Assistant Religious Education Coordinator, Jack Lopez for their assistance in coordinating the launch. Additionally, to the St John’s hospitality team who helped prepare the generous spread of food on the day, especially teachers Moira Anderson and Dianne Bryce.
Wollongong Diocesan Director of Catholic Mission, David Harrison, said, “It was a joy to see so many schools represented at the launch. I continue to be very grateful for this valued partnership we share together in trying to fundraise for worthy works overseas. To have the National Director of Catholic Mission present shows the importance Catholic Mission places on our partnership with CEDoW.”
STORIES FROM THE GROUND
During the liturgy, attendees had the opportunity to hear stories from the ground about how lives have been impacted and changed thanks to generous donations. It was hoped that through this sharing of stories, students would come away inspired and encouraged to consider how to be a part of mission.
Guest speaker, Monsignor Anamooh [pictured below], gave a first-hand insight into the work of the Church in Ghana and the needs that this year’s appeal can assist to achieve and of the work that Catholic Mission is doing in Ghana.
In a moving personal touch, he shared his own testimony – born into an unchurched and a very poor family and how he journeyed into baptism, became a learned priest and the director of a large seminary in Ghana.
“For our people, belief in God is very strong and to offer your life for the service of God and humanity is something we value a lot - and that is why we are still getting vocations. But I know that without your help through Catholic Mission to bring these vocations to maturity would not be that easy,” Monsignor Anamooh said. “I’d like to thank you for the support you’re providing. Maybe some of Sister Stan’s children will become priests or sisters, to continue this work that I’m doing now."
At the launch, attendees also heard the story of Ghanian school girl Sarah who at four years old was wrongly implicated in the deaths of fifteen people in her community, simply because she had a speech impediment.
Her life was changed by, Sister Stan who, after hearing that Sarah had been banished by her family and the entire village, reached out to support the schoolgirl. At the Nazareth Home for God's Children, where Sarah was led, the young people receive a quality education so that they may one day gain employment and provide for themselves. Sister Stan's dream is that one day they will return to their home community and show how the support of the Church has empowered them to develop and reach their goals.
“If we try and empower them, at least they can get to a place where somebody can employ them. It's a journey of faith and one we're all travelling,” said Sister Stan. “There were days when the children used to cry, I also wept. So when I see their smiles now, I also smile.”
The launch of World Mission Month was only a spring board, as students left inspired to be more generous, giving and charitable in their own lives. Corpus Christi Oak Flats student, Amelia, said: “It was great to hear from the priest from Ghana and to learn about Sister Stan’s home for children."
Many students spoke of their desire to fundraise to support the Nazareth Home for God's Children. A group of Corpus Christi students now plan to hold a pizza lunch during Term 4 to raise money. Others spoke of the enlightening mood on the day and the overall positivity they felt in the gathering.
As one student from St Benedict’s Oran Park explained, “Something I took away from the day is that no matter where you are in the world, you can connect with God and good people like Sister Stan will be there to help you, even when things seem impossible because of the situation you may be facing.”
While another student from St Benedict’s, Elijah, said, “It was a beautiful and dignified liturgy presented by St John’s. I feel very lucky to live in Australia but also to know of the need to help others. Listening to Monsignor Anamooh share his story and work as the rector of a seminary in Ghana was inspiring - a man that emulates Christ in his actions."
Jonah, Imogen and Serafim, from St Thomas More, further shared, “At school we constantly refer to a continuum that our teachers have introduced about compassion, self and malice. What can we do to show compassion to these countries. It's a big question we're going to take to our Year 6 cohort.”
Meanwhile, at St Clare’s Narellan Vale the students utilised the donation boxes they were given at the event for fundraising. “Together we will continue to make a difference in these children’s lives as much as we possibly can,” said Year 6 students Sophie H, Sophie M and Samuel. “Hearing the stories of the children of Ghana was heartwarming and touching. It is absolutely unbelievable what some children have witnessed and have dealt with throughout their lives.”