Ecumenical gathering seeks to build bridges, connections

“Truth, Unity and Reconciliation” is the theme for a national meeting of Sudanese and South Sudanese Christian women leaders in Canberra this week.

The March 29-30 consultation process has been organised by the National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA) with 20 women selected from various faiths including Catholic, Uniting, Salvation Army, Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist churches.

Two women will represent the Catholic Sudanese and South Sudanese communities of Australia: Mary Kenyi from Brisbane and Sydney’s Anna Dimo.

Elizabeth Stone, interim general secretary of the NCCA, said the consultation would be a unique opportunity for Sudanese and South Sudanese women to meet together and share their stories, experiences, challenges and hopes from their contexts of living in Australia.

“The aim of the meeting will be to develop connections and relationships across tribal and denominational loyalties across the country,” she said.

“At the previous leaders’ consultation (in May 2018), there were only four women present out of 28, and one of the recommendations was ‘that women need to be given their own space in the mediation process’.”

Those women present last year have been instrumental in identifying women leaders from across the churches of Australia to be present and will lead this year’s consultation.

Bishop Michael McKenna, chair of the Bishops Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue, welcomed the NCCA initiative and is grateful for the participation of Catholic representatives.

From his days as a priest in Fitzroy, Bishop McKenna came to know especially the South Sudanese people and learnt not only of their challenges, but also of the richness of faith that they bring to the Church and community in Australia.

Ms Kenyi, from the Archdiocese of Brisbane, said she felt honoured to have been chosen to take part in the consultation process.

“I have been in Australia for 15 years, living in Brisbane. I have four children of my own who are now grown up and I also care for my sister-in-law’s orphans,” she said.

“I have two issues – lack of unity among the Sudanese community groups and some of our children disengaging at school and getting involved in some anti-social behaviours.

“(At the conference) I will talk about my involvement in the Church and how the churches can work together to bring peace and harmony among the cultural groups and the wider community.”

Ms Dimo, who has five adult children now living in cities across the country, has called Australia home for the past 18 years and is connected with Sydney’s St Bakhita pastoral care centre, which provides English, computer and other classes to Sudanese of all faiths and ethnicities.

She said: “It feels wonderful to represent the Sudanese community anywhere. My involvement with the Church has been long and representing the Catholic community is a privilege.
“I would like to see greater support at all government levels for our Sudanese people. Humans have basic needs everywhere and it is their right to receive them when available.
“Sudanese migrants and refugees have mostly a very low level of education; most have grown up during the years of civil war. A high number of them are illiterate, which makes it impossible to integrate into society and the wider community.
“The complexity of the government departments does not allow our people to obtain help when needed. There is help, but not enough for our refugees. We need less complex systems, more understanding and respect to be able to integrate and make our children feel safe and appreciated in their second home.
“If our people had accommodation, health care and education assistance in which they could have involvement, their lives would be different and their children’s lives would be a pleasant thought. I am sure if there were more opportunities, they would be happy to participate.
“I believe strongly in the power of God, his love and mercy.”
The consultation process will be held at Canberra’s Australian Centre for Christianity & Culture.