Journeying into the heart and mind of faith

It has been 10 years since the Office for the Participation of Women commenced its Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship.
A visit to the Gallipoli Mosque left a lasting impression on the group.

Posted on 30 March 2016

By Aoife Connors

Spiritual leadership might look different in other faiths, but it’s how we feel that’s where we find our common language, Liska Turner told those gathered for afternoon tea to celebrate 10 years since the Office for the Participation of Women commenced its Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship.

The celebratory afternoon tea took place at the Mount St Benedict Centre in Pennant Hills on 26 February 2016 with a number of invited guests and sponsors.

The garden at Gallipoli Mosque.

The garden at Gallipoli Mosque.

Liska explained that “at our recent visit to the Gallipoli Mosque, the executive officer of the Muslim Women’s Association spoke so passionately and eloquently about living as a covered Muslim women of faith in today’s climate of anti-Islamic sentiments, it truly left a lasting impression on us all”.

Liska, along with 13 other women, recently completed her third residential weekend of lectures and interfaith visits. These women now have one residential weekend to complete and a series of online modules before they qualify with a graduate diploma in theology from The Broken Bay Institute. These women are our future leaders in the church.

“I was baptised a Lutheran, I was confirmed an Anglican and I’m now a convert to Catholicism, so the interfaith element of this Fellowship resonates very deeply with me,” Liska said.

“Our Fellowship journey commenced with a visit from Graeme Mundine, from Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. He spoke to us, at some depth, about the evolution and history of our Church and our engagement with the Indigenous community. In particular, he focused on the enculturation of Indigenous spirituality into our Catholic traditions.

“Sr Elizabeth Delaney SGS also spoke to us about the Church’s increasing openness to ecumenical dialogue and we’ve been blessed to have first-hand experience of this, visiting both a synagogue and a mosque.”

Having visited a synagogue during the previous residential weekend, Fellowship participant Helen Jacobs said, “Looking through the lens of the other, I was instantly moved by the warm welcome offered by the progressive Jewish community at North Shore Temple. I quietly applauded the sense of inclusion and equity created. A male and a female rabbi sitting in a circle with their companions and guests sharing in prayer and afterwards kitsch.”

Vicky Burrows, another Fellowship participant, described her Catholic faith as the “lens we look at other faiths through”, for example when visiting the Islamic community. “Our lens grounds us in our tradition and our faith.”

“One of the great things about the residential element is that we have to connect as a community, whether that’s online, over the phone or face to face. For some, we haven’t studied in 20 years, for others we’ve just come out of university, so the community component is important.”

Emma Thomson, a current Fellowship participant, described the spiritual component of the program as “enriching and nourishing our own understanding of our faith tradition and how it can be expressed in our contemporary world. It’s provided us with the space to pray and share and reflect together and it has provided us with supportive conditions for personal growth and spiritual growth”.

The Fellowship experience has been described as a journey into the heart of one’s faith.

Christine Pace said that learning about the spectrum and diversity of the Church has encouraged and inspired her because you can see that there are other young Catholic women like her.

Sally McEniry feels that discovering the faith traditions of others has assisted her in recognising the complementarity of other traditions while strengthening her commitment and understanding of the Church.

All of the current participants reiterated that since the Fellowship is funded by the Australian Catholic Bishops and the religious orders in Australia, the Church values and recognises the contribution of young Catholic women in the Church.

Moira Byrne said, “I’ve really valued the solidarity and friendships that have developed from the group. We’ve celebrated achievements and come through difficult times together.”

Andrea Dean, Co-ordinator of the Australian Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship, described it as a journey into the heart and mind of one’s own faith and the faith of others.

Hosted at the Mount St Benedict Centre at Pennant Hills, both Sr Elizabeth Brennan SGS and Christine Manning, continue to warmly welcome the Fellowship participants during their residential experiences. Sr Elizabeth said, “We hope that this special place nourishes their soul and gives them a greater sense of peace, upon leaving.”

Donella Johnston, Director, Office for the Participation of Women, thanked all of the sponsors of the Fellowship and congratulated the current participants on their exemplary leadership skills in presenting different aspects of the Fellowship program during afternoon tea.

Originally published on the media blog of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

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