Everyone Belongs: Harmony Week Table Talk focuses on community support for refugees

29 April 2024
Participants in discussion during the 'Everyone Belongs' Harmony Week Table Talk, organised by the Diocese of Parramatta’s Mission Enhancement Team (MET) and the “Diocesan Journey… Walking with Refugees” Steering Group at Mamre House, Orchard Hills, in March 2024. Image: Supplied


On Harmony Day (21 March), over 50 people from across the Diocese of Parramatta gathered for a Harmony Week Table Talk at scenic Catholic Care Mamre House and Farm in Orchard Hills.

The evening event was an opportunity to celebrate the multicultural diversity in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains and to highlight the personal stories and cultural gifts that many refugees contribute to this diversity.

The Harmony Week Table Talk was the first in a new series of Peace, Justice, Ecology Table Talks on various topics, offered throughout 2024 by the Diocese of Parramatta’s Mission Enhancement Team (MET) together with the “Diocesan Journey… Walking with Refugees” Steering Group, various partner agencies and local parishes like St Clair, Glenbrook or Marayong. The next ones coming up will be on 20 May during Laudato Si’ Week with a focus on environmental action, and in late June during Refugee Week.

“Harmony Week reminds us of the beauty found in the mosaic of cultures, backgrounds and beliefs that make up our community”, said host and co-facilitator Rita Hakkoum from Catholic Care Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

Rita coordinates Catholic Care’s regional Community Refugee Integration program, which is part of the national Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP). Catholic Care offers training to interested community groups, including Catholic parishes, which enables them to welcome and support refugees who have no other sponsor to be able to come to Australia.

CRISP sponsor groups assist individual refugees or refugee families with their immediate needs on arrival and during their first 12 months in the country. In the lead-up, sponsor groups are encouraged to research their local community through the eyes of a refugee newcomer to find out what the opportunities, resources and challenges are likely to be. Groups will also consider how they can welcome people into the community through social activities, events and ways of showing care. Catholic Care continues to support the group throughout their commitment.

The Harmony Week Table Talk highlighted the personal stories of two refugees and one sponsor group leader, who have all participated in the CRISP program.

Angelina, a 15-year-old refugee from Iraq, arrived in Sydney on Christmas Eve 2018. The then 10-year-old captured the hearts of all Table Talk participants when she told them about the greatest Christmas gift she received five years ago: Her new Australian “grandparents”, Mark and Mareen, two of her sponsors from the Springwood Anglican Refugee Support Group (SARSG).

Sergio from El Salvador in Central America and his family were welcomed into the same Blue Mountains community. One of his fondest memories is the hot chicken soup that the SARSG members had prepared for their arrival in Springwood.

Mark, who founded the Refugee Support Group, shared how it all started for them and how they opened their hearts to sponsor Angelina, Sergio and his family. He gave lots of practical tips and advice for groups that may be interested in becoming a CRISP a sponsor team.

The Table Talk format allowed participants not only to listen to these inspiring stories, but also to come together in small table groups to reflect on these stories, to discern actions they can take in support of refugees, and to build new connections and friendships around shared values.

You can learn more about Table Talks here. If you would like to organise a Table Talk in your parish, school or community, please email James Atanasious via met@parracatholic.org

If your parish, community or group is interested in participating in the CRISP program, please email Rita Hakkoum via enquiries@catholiccarewsbm.org.au


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