Society Matters | Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024

1 Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 Society Matters The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18) A NEWSLETTER OF THE DIVINE WORD MISSIONARIES INC - AUSTRALIA PROVINCE Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 Society Matters

Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 2 Society Matters Message from the Provincial Superior Dear Friends, Welcome to the Autumn edition of Society Matters for 2024. I hope the first months of this year have been good for you. One of the things about God’s mission is that it is always evolving. As missionaries we must always be prepared to go where we are needed most, always open to the creativity and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. In this edition, we catch up with a range of projects in India which were supported by our Province through the generous donations of you, our partners in mission. Focused on those living in slums in Odisha Province, the projects include support for women, children, and ragpickers, providing work skills, financial literacy, education, and workplace advocacy, among other things. Over the last year, a similar Spirit-led dynamism in our own Australia Province has led us to accept the invitation of bishops to extend the SVD ministry with our indigenous brothers and sisters into the Tiwi Islands and Daly River in the Darwin Diocese and Balgo in the Broome Diocese. You can read about those latest developments on pages 6-7 and we ask for your prayerful support of these new missionary endeavours for our Province. Also in this edition we introduce you to Fr Jun Perez SVD, a very experienced missionary who has served in Russia, Africa, South Korea, Thailand and now Australia, as the new Coordinator for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in our Province. We hope you enjoy his story. Thanks also to you, our valued partners in mission, who help support such important initiatives. Yours in the Word, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD Provincial Superior Cover Story: An animator meets with a group of urban poor women in the slums of Jharsuguda in Odisha, India. Read more on pages 4-5. Appeal Office: 199 Epping Road, Marsfield NSW Locked Bag 3, Epping NSW 1710 Australia Telephone: +61 2 9868 2666 Victoria: 100 Albion Road, Box Hill, Vic 3128 Tel: +61 3 9890 0065 Queensland: 96 Lilac Street Inala QLD 4077 Tel: +61 7 3372 5658 New Zealand: 41 Britannia Street, Petone, 5046 Tel: +64 4 971 7885 Published by Divine Word Missionaries Incorporated, ABN 51 885 667 646

3 Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 Society Matters Migration, human rights, environment - key priorities for new JPIC Coordinator Missionaries are well known for their willingness to live and serve in a variety of countries, and none more so than Fr Jun Perez SVD, who has arrived in Australia after missionary assignments which have taken him from Russia to Africa, South Korea and Thailand. Fr Jun was born in the Philippines in 1967 and joined the SVD in June 1994, taking his first vows in 1997 and his final vows in 2001, and being ordained to the priesthood later that year. His first missionary assignment was to Russia. Arriving in 2002, he went to St Petersburg to learn the language and also worked in a parish providing ministry to migrants. After a year in St Petersburg, Jun was transferred to a parish in Moscow, working with migrant communities from Asia, Africa, Europe and America, before next being assigned to Siberia. “I learnt a lot during that time,” he says. “Especially adjusting from one culture to another. Coming from the Philippines, the winters were a real shock, at minus 35 degrees Celsius. That took some getting used to.” While in Siberia, he saw the SVD had a vacancy in Liberia, Africa, which was just emerging from 13 years of civil war. “I prayed about it and decided to go,” he says. This time, Fr Jun was heading to a tropical climate, to work as Program Director with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), helping with the distribution of food under the World Food Program. He contracted Malaria seven times in a year and one of those cases, of cerebral malaria, was almost fatal, but after recovering, Jun continued his ministry in Liberia. From Liberia, Fr Jun spent 10 years, from 2007-2017, in South Korea, working in an SVD migrant chaplaincy centre. In 2017, it was back to Africa, taking up a new assignment with JRS in Malawi as Pastoral Office Coordinator, which involved sacramental ministry as well as responsibility for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). Fr Jun was preparing to take up a new assignment in Latin America in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and international borders closed, leaving him back home in the Philippines for 15 months. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when travel was allowed again I was asked to go to Bangkok to again work with JRS in caring for refugees from Asia as a psycho-social counsellor,” he says. While working in Thailand, which is part of the SVD Australia Province, Fr Jun was asked by Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, to move to Australia to take up the role of JPIC Coordinator for the Province. Fr Jun says he is looking forward to his new assignment, which he sees as a ministry of hope, supporting all the confreres in the Province in the work they are already doing in these areas. “The first thing I will be doing is meeting the confreres and listening and learning about their ministry and about the people they are serving, whether that be in Indigenous communities or multicultural parishes here in Australia, as well as the ministries in New Zealand, Thailand and Myanmar,” he says. “And I will be focusing on the three main areas of concern raised at the SVD’s ASPAC JPIC Assembly in Bangkok in July – migration, human rights and environment. “As well as supporting the confreres in the work they are doing and in mobilising their communities to be part of the JPIC mission, I’m looking forward to networking and working collaboratively with other Non-Government Organisations, and also working to promote awareness of the issues.”

Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 4 Society Matters SVD projects helping those living in India’s slums to build better life The Divine Word Missionaries in the Indian state of Odisha are running a range of projects to support people living in the marginalised slum communities and to give them the education, skills, motivation, leadership animation, and financial assistance to help lift them out of poverty. Fr Rasal Xess SVD, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the SVD India East Province (INE) said the urban poverty is characterised by exclusion, including inadequate and insecure housing and basic services, limited access to services like health, nutrition and water sanitation. “Slums have marked characteristics like overcrowding, precarious living conditions, environmental hazards, improper sanitation and air pollution causing health hazards,” he said. The SVD Provincial House is situated in Jharsuguda town where the urban poverty is particularly vivid. “The slum life equally affects women, youth, children, men and the environment in its totality,” Fr Rasal said. The SVD has responded to the situation of the people with four key projects, supported by the SVD Australia Province through the generous support of benefactors and partners in mission. They are: Animation of Urban Poor Women in the Slum; Education animation for slum children in Jharsuguda; Animation of rag pickers in Jharsuguda; and Animation of Transgender people in Jharsuguda. “As long as there is negligence towards the empowerment of urban women there will always be a lacuna in the development efforts,” Fr Rasal said. “There are so many urban poor women who, given an opportunity, can bring positive change in the life of individuals, family and society. “The objectives of the project are women’s empowerment through formation of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), to promote the habit of saving in women, to enable women to be involved in decision-making processes in families, the community and local self-government, to prevent migration through initiating income-generating activities and thus to prevent exploitation and human trafficking.” Fr Rasal said the project, which covers the animation of about 680 urban poor women in 14 slums of Jharsuguda, has already brought positive changes to the lives of the women involved. “Out of 34 SHGs, 27 groups have taken bank loans to start their own income-generating activities,” Fr Rasal said. “Women SHGs as individuals and as groups, are engaged in start-ups and businesses like grocery shops, small-scale farming, livestock rearing, fast food selling and clothing sales. “The Women SHGs have also addressed the work of health and sanitation in the slums. They are able to take up leadership roles to meet their needs in consultation with municipality offices.” The project has also helped the women to maintain and regularise their SHG registers, meetings and bank dealings. “Apart from all this, the project continuously accompanies them through various training programs and awareness events which help them to learn and decide collectively for their own good. They also tackle the issues pertaining to them that arise in the locality. The project has indeed added Animation of Rag Pickers Self-help Group Meeting in the slum at Jharsuguda

5 Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 Society Matters dignity to their lives,” Fr Rasal said. The project providing education animation for the slum children of Jharsuguda aims to support the children accessing education. “Urban poor children are always deprived of early schooling,” Fr Rasal said. “They are many times victims of child labour and are used for anti-social activities in the cities. “Through the education animation of slum children, they are given extra attention and classes for their learning and they are also directed to schools for further learning. “Through these projects, slum children are given motivational accompaniment and there is a collective effort to provide character formation. “The Society of the Divine Word carries out education animation activities for urban poor children through tuition classes and various motivation programs. “This program helps children to read, write and understand the concepts prescribed in the academic schedule.” The project involves the SVD missionaries visiting the children and families in the slum; conducting preparatory classes as part of education animation; motivation, quizzes and skills training; awareness of health and hygiene; Awareness building on issues of child abuse; and the Celebration of International Children’s Day. “The project has had a big impact. Children from the slums are now regularly attending school and tuition classes and both parents and children are motivated towards the education of children,” Fr Rasal said. “Children are learning to be disciplined and are increasing their capacity to read and write. A few children from the slums are performing better in their exams and the over-all interest level of children towards school and education has increased.” Jharsuguda is also home to a growing number of rag-pickers among the slums as people seek to make a small living. “Along with their small-scale livelihood, they contribute towards creating a cleaner environment in the cities,” Fr Rasal said. “Our intervention is helping them towards better health and livelihood practices.” The project includes the SVD missionaries visiting the rag-pickers and their families in the slum; Availing them of possible government benefits; Collaborating with the rag buyers and dealers; Helping the rag pickers’ children through informal education; Forming a rag pickers group; Creating awareness about health and hygiene; Creating a saving mentality; and Organising a health camp for the rag pickers. “Through this project we’re in touch with about 44 rag pickers and we’ve been able to link them to ration benefits and health benefits through Government health care centres,” Fr Rasal said. “The children of rag pickers are given informal education and through this project, rag buyers or dealers are made to pay the required amount for the rags collected and sold. The project also provides blankets during winter for those who need them.” Fr Rasal said there is also a transgender community in Jharsuguda whose members face a lot of discrimination due to social stigma. “Our intervention helps the target group to live with dignity and respect. The project also facilitates skills training towards decent income-earning for transgender people and helps us reach out to them with animation programs.” Fr Rasal thanked the Australia Province and its benefactors and partners in mission for helping the projects come to life. “Thank you very much for supporting the animation work towards urban and rural poor and labour migrants in Jharsuguda, Odisha,” he said. SVD provides support to prevent discrimination for the transgender community National Education Day is celebrated for slum children

Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 6 Society Matters SVD takes up ministry in Daly River and Balgo The Divine Word Missionaries have taken up the pastoral care of communities in Daly River in the Northern Territory and Balgo in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region, in a move which further demonstrates the SVD’s commitment to ministry with indigenous peoples. Two SVD priests were installed by Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci in December at Daly River, while another arrived at Balgo. He will be joined by a second priest in the New Year. Daly River, or Nauiyu, is situated 230km south of Darwin and 250km north-west of Katherine. Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, said that despite the challenges of working in remote communities, he is excited about the new ministries. “The great thing is that we are not starting from scratch,” he said. “In Daly River, we are building on the legacies of the Jesuits who were there since 1882, as well as the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Malak Malak people themselves. “We know it’s not going to be easy, and there are ongoing social issues in the community, but we will be working together with the people and with Bishop Charles and the Diocese of Darwin, the Catholic school principal and civil leaders of the community. “We are going in hoping to work synodally, using that way of co-responsibility, out of respect for what has taken place there already and working with the people to effect change in their own lives.” The two priests appointed to Daly River are both from Indonesia. Fr Daniel Polla SVD and Fr Rius Baku Salu SVD have prepared for their new assignment by undertaking interculturality programs both with the SVD and the Diocese of Darwin. Fr Rass said part of their job would be not just to concentrate on the spiritual sphere, but also to work on the social and material aspects of their lives. “I have asked them simply to get to know the people, respect them and love the people, whatever is happening,” he said. “You just have to open your eyes to see the many blessings of this community. The elders know all about their cultural history and spirituality and our job is to listen and learn. “I’m excited about it. I’ve got a strong feeling that this is where the Holy Spirit is calling us to assist at this time.” Fr Daniel was installed as parish priest at St Francis Xavier Parish Daly River on December 10, along with assistant priest Rius Baku Salu in a Mass celebrated by Bishop Charles. Fr Daniel comes from West Timor, Indonesia, and spent many years of mission in Paraguay. “I believe that in Daly River, l will do my best, in consideration of Bishop Charles’ words to try, bit by bit, to gain the trust of the people, be patient with them and work with them,” he said. “Working with Aboriginal people is a first experience for me, so l can’t have high expectations, except to say that l believe in this mission that Jesus has begun for me, so I can invite more people to know His way.” Fr Rius, who was ordained in his home country of Indonesia three years ago, said he and Fr Daniel have received a warm welcome from the Daly River community and he is looking forward to what lies ahead. Fr Paulo Vatunitu SVD is welcomed to Balgo with a smoking ceremony Fr Daniel Polla and Fr R

7 Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 Society Matters “There are two things that adorn my heart and mind about this new mission and first assignment, namely the trust I have gained and the responsibilities that need to be fulfilled,” he said. “From these things, two human feelings were born, which are of course closely linked to this mission journey – happiness and anxiety. However, we always have hope, and, I hope that with God’s presence, something good will be born in this new mission journey.” In a Facebook post announcing the installation of the two SVD priests at Daly River, Bishop Charles thanked them for their “generosity in accepting this call”. “God bless you! Let’s keep them in our prayers,” he said. Meanwhile, in Balgo, in the Broome Diocese, Fr Paulo Vanuitu SVD has arrived to take up the pastoral care of the parish and he will soon by joined by Fr Ronaldo Rodriguez SVD. Following a recent visit to Balgo, Fr Rass said the community has long captured the interest and imagination of both missionaries and tourists because of the beauty of the land. “It’s almost a spiritual exercise just to be there in the desert, with a sky full of bright stars. It’s a different world and a wonderful experience,” he said. “But there is also a harshness and of course, the remoteness.” The Balgo mission was started by the Pallotine German missionaries in 1939 and has, over the years, been home to the Jesuits, St John of God Sisters, Sisters of Mercy and Lasallian Brothers. Along with the parish, there is a Catholic bilingual school. Linked with both the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert, the 2021 census recorded Balgo’s population as 430. Balgo is a multicultural community of Aboriginal peoples, with seven other language groups besides the main language Kukatja represented. There are: Ngardi, Djaru, Warlpiri, Walmajarri, Wangkajunga, Pintupi and Ngaatjatjarra residents. Fr Rass said that when he arrived with Fr Paulo and an SVD seminarian, the welcome was memorable. “It was one of the warmest welcomes we’ve ever received,” he said. “There was a smoking ceremony and big smiles. It was really heartwarming.” Fr Paulo said he has been busy since his arrival getting out to the meet the people in the various parts of the wide-spread parish. “I’ve just come back from one of the out-stations which is 300km away,” he said. There are six outstations, all with schools. Fr Paulo, who hails from Fiji and has previously served the SVD in the Philippines, said he is looking forward to getting to know the people. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s been an interesting experience from Day One. I’ve enjoyed meeting the elders, seeing the school and some of the important parts of the cultural landscape. I’ve certainly received a warm welcome. It’s been good.” Parishioners entering St Theresa’s church in Balgo Photo: Diocese of Darwin Rius Salu with Bp Charles Gauci and Daly River parishioners

Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 8 Society Matters “Our parish covers about 600km in diameter,” he says. “In the north, we are almost bordering with Tennant Creek; to the south we go to Uluru; almost to the Queensland border in the east, and the WA border in the west. “The community of Yuendumu is about 300km away and Harts Range is 250km away in the other direction. The SVD has also recently taken up the pastoral care of the Daly River community in the Darwin Diocese. A special appeal for the purchase of the campervan and utility vehicle raised about $31,000. This month, Fr Prakash and Fr Ollie drove the utility vehicle to Coffs Harbour where it was fitted with the campervan and then drove all the way back to Alice Springs in it, where it is now ready for use in ministry. “We’re so thankful to everyone who donated,” Fr Ollie says. Campervan hits the road to help missionaries in outback ministry With the help of generous donors and partners in mission, the Divine Word Missionaries have finally taken delivery of a small campervan which will allow the missionaries in Central Australia to stay with outlying Aboriginal communities for longer periods. Previously, the missionaries have driven hundreds of kilometres to be with the people in those communities, but often, after celebrating Mass or other sacraments, they have to turn around and make the long drive back to Alice Springs again. “We have about 12 Aboriginal communities outside of Alice Springs and they don’t have a place for us to stay, so having the campervan means we could go and really spend time with the people, instead of just coming and going,” says Fr Olivier Noclam SVD, Parish Priest at Santa Teresa. “For us, it is really important to be with the people and spend time with them, getting to know them and their culture and their way of life. The campervan will also assist a new initiative for Central Australia which is a collaboration with Catholic Mission, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), the SVD and the Diocese of Darwin, to have a lay prayer leader or catechist in these outlying communities, as authorised recently by Pope Francis. “The priest will have to stay in the community and provide formation and support for this person, so we will need to have somewhere to stay,” Fr Ollie says. Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Alice Springs, Fr Prakash Menezes SVD, says the campervan would provide a new way of being with the people in the far reaches of the vast parish. A Newsletter of the Divine Word Missionaries Inc - Australia Province Donations to the SVD AUS Province Overseas Aid Fund can be made online at or by mailing to Divine Word Missionary Appeal Office, Locked Bag 3, Epping NSW, 1710, Australia. +61 2 9868 9015 @svdaus Society Matters Fr Prakash and Fr Ollie arrive in Alice Springs with the campervan