After a tumultuous year, students and teachers across the Diocese of Parramatta have been inspired to walk alongside one another in becoming closer to the love of God.
In an exciting LIFTED program, Catholic Youth Parramatta (CYP) encouraged over 1500 primary school students, 300 Year 12 leaders and teachers to reflect on Pope Francis’ words on “the art of accompaniment”, and how the concept can look in their schools and local community.
James Camden, Director, CYP, explained, “Reflecting on 2020 and the realities that we faced, we were inspired by accompaniment as a tool for ministry.
“During COVID, young people started journeying with each other online and in digital spaces.
“2021 gives us a chance to unpack ‘accompaniment’, give it focus, and bring it to life before the business of life gets back to a new normal,” he said.
Although students and teachers were not able to gather in person for the LIFTED programs, CYP introduced accompaniment through a newly-developed video resource that was broadcast to them.
During LIFTED Live Jr, the program for Year 5 and 6 students, James said accompaniment, or “journeying together”, is probably a concept that they might not have heard before, but one that can be explored and incorporated into their school.
This year’s Project Compassion theme of “Be More,” based on a quote by St Oscar Romero, also ran through the program.
Qwayne Guevara, Local Engagement Leader, CYP, told the students “we wanted to take this on and challenge one another in being more for others in our local community beyond Lent and what does that mean for us.”
Living accompaniment in the Diocese
A panel of young people explained how they live out accompaniment in their roles across the Diocese.
Patrice Moriarty, the former Social Justice Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta, collaborates with several organisations and accompanies people from all walks of life, living out the values of Christ and sharing the gifts that God has given them.
During COVID, Patrice helped organise food drives for services such as Jesuit Refugee Services and House of Welcome, who assisted refugees and asylum seekers who were doing it tough with job losses and food shortages.
“By collaborating together and utilising the gifts of each person, we can really become the community Christ wants us to be. We can be God’s hands in the world,” she told the students.
“Accompaniment, to me, is almost like a friendship. It’s about building relationships with people over the long term, not just for a few hours or a few days, it’s really caring about somebody, so much so, that they belong and that you really care about them.”
In his work as the Youth and Networking Coordinator for the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, Ryan Epondulan accompanies those from different faiths as they work together for the greater good of society.
“By understanding each other, having a better appreciation of each other’s cultures and religious traditions, you find ways where you are able to work on common social issues.
“Why do it by yourself when you can do it with others and share that joyful experience?” he asked.
One of Ryan’s most recent projects has been with the production of The Sydney Statement, a document written by young people that hopes to build bridges between those of different religions.
When The Sydney Statement was published in early February, Ryan explained, “It forms people for growing interfaith relations which are authentic, honest and respectful. It also educates them about the different ways of carrying out this task.”
In his diaconate and priestly ministry, Deacon Andrew will accompany those whom he will minister to as they, and himself, “be like Christ and be Christ for others,” as he described.
In describing the importance of accompaniment to help people flourish, he said, “Friendships and relationships are important for us as people and as Christians, because from other people, we learn about them and about ourselves and through other people, we learn to be better and we learn about Christ through other people.”
Accompaniment for primary students
When asked what students can do practically to accompany one another, Deacon Andrew stressed the importance of listening.
Patrice asked that the students put themselves in another person’s shoes and think how they would feel if there were in that person’s position.
Ryan hoped that the students would remember Jesus’ teachings of treating others as you would want to be treated. He also encouraged the students to share a smile with their fellow classmates, as well as their neighbours, encouraging a sense of warmth and welcoming.
Deacon Andrew referred to John 13:34 – “love one another as I have loved you,” as one of the Bible quotes that he lives by. “We’re able to love people so much more when we love God, because God’s love is so much and so perfect, that if we can imitate that love and join ourselves to that love, we’re unstoppable.
“And I think that’s key in ministry in any Christian life, not just as a deacon, or a priest, or a teacher or a student,” he said.
The students’ response
Students were then asked to reflect on the theme of accompaniment and were partnered up with another school to share their thoughts.
Coming back to the main group, students from Mother Teresa Primary, Westmead, spoke of belonging, sharing thoughts and ideas and supporting one another.
Students from St Canice’s Primary, Katoomba, hope to raise more funds for Project Compassion by hosting a purple-themed mufti day.
At Corpus Christi Primary, Cranebrook, students connected with the St Oscar Romero quote, “aspire not to have more, but to be more.”
“I believe that we can donate, not just money, but we can donate love and time. Even if we do one small thing every couple of weeks, it can help,” one student said.
View the ‘Accompaniment’ video on The Well.
View images from Catholic Youth Parramatta’s LIFTED Week here.