Sixteen young women have graduated from the ACBC’s Young Catholic Women’s Interfaith Fellowship, with participants describing it as a life-changing, enriching and nourishing experience for both the mind and the spirit.
The women come from all over Australia, from 13 dioceses stretching from Port Pirie to Townsville.
They have completed a two year program, which included a theoretical and practical emphasis on Interfaith Relations, the completion of a Graduate Certificate in Theology through the Broken Bay Institute and University of Newcastle, as well as residential sessions at the Mount St Benedict Centre, Pennant Hills, combining personal, spiritual and leadership formation.
Carmel Thompson from Townsville Diocese says the experience was “absolutely wonderful”.
“It was just such a blessing to be part of it,” she says.
“It all started with a flyer. I saw the Fellowship advertised on a flyer and it intrigued me because I had been interested in interfaith issues for some time. I have really felt such a calling to it.”
Carmel says it has been great to meet women of other faiths who are like-minded and to be able to explore these issues with them.
“We were able to look at where the commonalites and differences are, and there was a great openness and dialogue.”
During the Fellowship the women visited a Mosque, Buddhist and Hindu places of worship, a Synagogue and the Holocaust Museum.
“But the other wonderful part of the Fellowship has been really learning more about our own faith tradition,” she says.
Working as a teacher in the small rural town of Collinsville, Carmel says the online mode of study through BBI was perfect for her.
“The online study meant that my remote location didn’t get in the way for me,” she says. “I could listen to lectures whenever I could, and with all the online connections with other students you really feel part of a learning community.”
Carmel says she feels she has already put the learnings of the Fellowship to good use in the classroom, as well as in her own life and interaction with others.
Rebecca Beisler from Broken Bay Diocese had an unexpected bonus during the Fellowship, with the birth of a baby boy.
“I became pregnant at the start of the Fellowship,” she says. “And the joy from the other women that accompanied all that was wonderful.
“For me, it’s been a journey into the heart and, and into the heart of my faith.
“The academic side of the Fellowship really opened my mind to think about my faith from a completely different perspective. I also learnt a lot about Interfaith issues and leadership and how that leadership relates to our mission as Christians.
“This group of women and this time we’ve spent together has been so nourishing for the soul. It really has been a fellowship and we really have accompanied, supported and gifted each other. So I feel that I’ve come out at the end with a better understanding of what it means to be a Catholic, but also enriched by the experience of being with these women and the hospitality we received from women of other faiths.”
Fellowship Coordinator Andrea Dean says the young women displayed a deep commitment to the program, even when life threw up some surprises.
“We had three babies born over the two years, and yet these women still managed to stick with the program despite the various things happening in their private and professional lives,” she says.
“There is a deep spirituality among the group. These are really outstanding young women and it has been a blessing for me to be a part of it.”
The Bishops Delegate for the Council for Australian Catholic Women, Bishop Peter Ingham celebrated Mass during the graduation weekend and thanked the women for their commitment in undertaking the Fellowship, assuring them of their great value to the Church.
“Without participants, there is no Fellowship, so thank you very much for taking part,” he said.
If you would like to find out more about the Fellowship or would like to sponsor a Fellowship participant please contact Fellowship Coordinator Andrea Dean on firstname.lastname@example.org