Lent is a time in which we are particularly encouraged to be mindful of and give to our brothers and sisters in need. Many parishes around our Diocese of Parramatta are engaged in Lenten initiatives, and one such community responding to this call is the parish of Good Shepherd, Plumpton, whose “High Five For Lent” project directly supports asylum seekers and refugees through contributing to the House of Welcome’s Food Bank.
To learn more about this exciting project, Catholic Outlook spoke to parishioner and member of Good Shepherd’s Social Justice Team, Sr Colleen Foley OSU. The Social Justice team began in 2019 as a direct response to the rising numbers of asylum seekers and refugees in the community. “We wanted to raise awareness of their plight,” Sr Colleen says. This eventually led to involvement in the Diocese’s “Walking with Refugees and People Seeking Protection” project. “Our pastoral parish priest, Fr Vincy D’Costa ofmcap, agreed to host a Table Talk in our parish in July 2019,” Sr Colleen says.
It was from this Table Talk that Good Shepherd’s association with the House of Welcome was born, leading eventually to the High Five for Lent Project. “Ever since then, parishioners have been generous in their offerings, and regular drop-offs of staple food and necessities occurred”, Sr Colleen says. Although the project could not be held in 2021, it is now up and running again this year through the encouragement of Social Justice Team Leader, Anthony Matthews, whom Sr Colleen describes as “full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm, and hoping to involve as many parishioners as possible in responding to “The Cry of the Earth, the Cry of the Poor” (Australian Bishops Social Justice Statement 2021/2022).”
As part of the project, parishioners are invited to bring one type of staple item to church for each of the five weeks of Lent. Specific items depend on the need of the House of Welcome. “After consultation with Miriam Pellicano, the House of Welcome executive manager, we decided to focus on canola oil, washing powder, flour, basmati rice and shampoo,” Sr Colleen says. The staple items go directly to those who come to the House of Welcome. “They have very limited resources and visa restrictions,” Sr Colleen says, “so being able to access the Food Bank is a great help to them financially.”
Sr Colleen describes her parish’s response as “overwhelmingly generous” and notes a deeper community spirit and sense of cooperation. The youth of the parish play a key role in assisting with the project. “Our assistant priest, Fr Bollar Barretto ofmcap, has organised the youth of the parish, under the direction of Social Justice Team member Trisha Pacleb, to deliver the goods,” Sr Colleen says. Other parish groups also enjoy getting involved in social justice initiatives, with Social Justice Team member RoseVi Tungul working with Couples for Christ and Youth for Christ to engage young people in a valuable experience of community involvement.
Sr Colleen is hopeful that the High Five for Lent project will inspire more people to get involved in the parish. “Active participation is key to building community”, she says, “and we hope as many people as possible will be inspired to renew their baptismal commitment and joyfully “make the Kingdom Come”.” She also encourages families who might be thinking of “doing more” this Lent to consider participating. “Everyone can feel happy to be supporting needy people and participating in a parish project”, she says. “This kind of activity makes us feel that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, that we are following Jesus: “For when I was hungry you gave me to eat….”, and that we are truly “welcoming the stranger.”
To learn more about the Good Shepherd Plumpton parish community and initiatives, visit the parish Facebook page. You can also learn more about the House of Welcome and how you can support their project by visiting their website.