As the state of NSW celebrates the milestone of 70% of the eligible population being double vaccinated, a number of parishes across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains are doing their part to keep that number increasing.
Over the last few months, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta, Mary Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown and Holy Family Parish, Emerton, have hosted NSW Health vaccination clinics for vulnerable community groups.
These clinics were designed to cater to the Sudanese and Indigenous communities, refugees and people seeking asylum. They also welcomed other members of the community.
One such clinic was held on Thursday 30 September at the All Saints of Africa Centre, on the St Patrick’s Church site in Blacktown.
Throughout the afternoon, a steady stream of teenage patients from the Muslim and Christian Sudanese community of Western Sydney and other nationalities waited patiently to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
The clinic was also open to walk-in appointments, mothers, elderly members of the community and parents accompanying the teenagers.
Cheery NSW Health staff members were on-site to help the patients throughout the process – assisting them with filling out health records and vaccination status information, chatting with teenagers and calming their nerves ahead of the vaccination itself, and then making sure they are well during the observation period.
Community leader Deacon John Cinya from Mary Queen of the Family Parish Blacktown explained to Catholic Outlook that the vaccination clinic was established because there were hindrances that prevented some communities, such as the African community, from getting vaccinated.
“Among our community, there is a lack of language, so the process of booking a vaccination was difficult,” he said. “Even the technology itself was a problem.”
“By speaking with Multicultural Health Western Sydney Local Health District, we requested to get the vaccinations at the All Saints of Africa Centre because everyone in the African community, not just the Sudanese, knows where the Centre is.
“It is appropriate for people in our community to come here because it is a safe place,” he said.
Ismail, a member of the Muslim Sudanese community, brought his daughter to the clinic, telling Catholic Outlook that it was important that she be vaccinated to protect herself.
“By coming to this clinic, it was easy to book an appointment, as we didn’t have to wait as long as we would if we went through the hospital,” he said. “By seeing familiar faces [at the All Saints centre], it encourages you to get vaccinated.”
Ismail explained that although lockdown has been tough for his family, he was using this time to tell his children the history of his life before coming to Australia.
“It’s been very hard staying at home, but we go out and do exercise and we try to stay happy,” he said.
Rhoel, a member of the Filipino community, had heard about the vaccination clinic through a friend whose children attend St Patrick’s Primary School.
As a Christian, he said, it was important that he brought his daughter Chelsea to be vaccinated to protect their family.
He said that once restrictions are lifted, he was most looking forward to having visitors. “We haven’t seen our family for a long time. It’ll feel almost like Christmas.”
For Chelsea, getting vaccinated meant that she would be able to go out with friends and be able to meet with them safety.
Church support for vaccinations
Fr Peter Williams, Vicar General & Moderator of the Curia in the Diocese of Parramatta explained that the Diocese is keen to support the NSW Health initiatives as best as it can during this crisis.
“We hope these initiatives for communities that may be harder to reach will both protect those who receive the vaccine, and demonstrate to others the commitment the Catholic Church has to this issue,” he said.
In explaining the importance of getting vaccinated, Fr Peter added, “The Catholic Church strongly encourages COVID-19 vaccination as a means of protecting individuals and the wider community.
“People of faith can get vaccinated knowing they have the full support of their Church.
“Pope Francis has also said being vaccinated is ‘an act of love’.”
Deacon John added that it is the duty of the Catholic Church to care for the most vulnerable, and by getting vaccinated, we are doing that.
“I and many others came to Australia from South Sudan for safety because we were fleeing the war.
“We need our people to be safe, and just like us moving to Australia, getting vaccinated is protecting ourselves in the community.
“We don’t want to bring harm to others, and we are quite lucky that we can be safe here in Australia.”
Spreading Church support for vaccinations in community languages
In September, the Catholic Church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains launched a multilingual, multicultural, and multimedia information campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Diocese of Parramatta, which is running the campaign, has created messages in support of vaccination from Catholic leaders including Pope Francis and Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta.
To download messages in support of vaccination across 12 cultural languages including Arabic and Dinka, please visit parracatholic.org/covid19/#vaccine
Information on the Catholic Church’s position on the COVID-19 vaccine can be downloaded for sharing at https://parracatholic.org/covid19/