AURORA - Autumn 2024

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Wrapped in love

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Editor:

Design:

When I sat down to write this Editor’s note, I naturally reflected on the stories we’ve told in this issue of Aurora. I feel strongly connected to each article set out on the pages ahead - perhaps it’s because this is the first issue I’ve worked on from scratch, or perhaps it’s because the people at the centre of these stories are fundamentally good people.

One of the standouts from the past couple of months was a conversation I had with Bishop Michael Kennedy about his first year in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He reflected that one of his most pivotal learnings over his time here has been to trust; in others, in oneself and having faith that God will bring whatever we’re doing to fruition.

As we worked our way through this edition, trust and faith were two themes that seemed so obvious, but often unspoken.

Our cover story is on the heroic Emma Walsh, who has trusted in her doctors, in medicine, in her family, her community and ultimately God as she has embarked on a battle nobody should have to endure.

Then there’s the beautiful story of Hanif and Siamoi, who had faith that their love would carry them through war and impossible circumstances to bring them back to each other.

There is also great trust in our employees, who are evidently moving this Diocese forward in the right direction as demonstrated in the strong results that have been achieved in the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards audit. Trust and faith, it seems, is what we can hold on to no matter how dark the days or the history may be.

Just as Jesus trusted in his disciples, nurturing their growth and imparting wisdom to carry forth

On

Wrapped

his message of love, healing and redemption, the stories on these pages have reminded me that if we trust in the good, in the people we have around us and in the power of ourselves, we can be protected.

As the Editor of Aurora, I hope every story will stay with me and make me a better person in some kind of way. I have no doubt that I am proficient at exercising trust subconsciously, but my takeaway for this issue is to make it known that I trust internally, professionally, in my relationships and in the divine plan.

I want to encourage those reading this to do the same, for trust is a beacon of hope through uncertainty, a refuge amongst chaos and a testament to the enduring power of faith and connection. Ultimately, I think that’s all we need.

Choosing trust Earn up to 4.75% pa* on your Fixed Term Investment with the CCF. The CCF is dedicated to helping members with their financial goals while positively contributing to the community. *Rates applicable at 20 February 2024 and are subject to change at any time. Visit our website myccf.com.au for further information and to view our Disclosure Statement. Inside:
Contact
Team
Madie Leeming
Contributors: Liz Baker,
Bowd, Alexander Foster, Kellie O’Sullivan and Elizabeth Symington Aurora editorial and advertising enquiries should be addressed to: Madie Leeming P 02 4979 1200 E aurora@mn.catholic.org.au PO Box 756 Newcastle 2300 The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is located on traditional lands of Awabakal, Biripi Darkinjung, Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Wonnarua, and Worimi peoples. We honour the wisdom of and pay respect to, Elders past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the spiritual culture of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia. We have much to learn from this ancient culture. Sharing the Gospel of Jesus 4 One year on 5 Measuring good governance 6 Advice from past advisors 7 In brief 8 War, worry and waiting 10 Alpha course unites young people 12 Weathering mental health struggles associated with the cost-of-living crisis 13 Wrapped in love 14 Stability builds strength 17 Audit reveals success in safeguarding 18 Walk The Talk 20 Values as the North Star 21 The Colour Purple 22
Emma Barnett, David Stedman Regular
Tim
the cover:
warrior changing
with love
in love - the young
lives
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Sharing the Gospel of Jesus

In his Second letter to Timothy, Saint Paul urges Christians to “preach the message (the Gospel), welcome or unwelcome … in season and out of season.”i This is the basic task or mission of the Church and of every member of the Church: to preach the Gospel. If you’re not mad on that word ‘preach’ and don’t think preaching is for you, then you can change it for another verb, but the basic task remains the same: to share, to teach, to spread, or to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said and did many things, but in a nutshell, his Gospel - his Good News – is that God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son; that God wants us to be happy in this life and in eternity; so, he calls us to conversion, to turn away from sin and believe in Him. It’s no wonder the Gospel is called the Good News! It’s very good news!

Those who come to believe in Jesus Christ and live by his Gospel have found a real treasure and a real peace in their life, even if they also have those trials

and difficulties which are part of every person’s life. Jesus does not want us to keep this treasure to ourselves. He calls us to share it with others, and thus the urgency for all believers to ‘preach’ the Gospel in whatever way is most suitable to each of us. How I preach the Gospel as a Bishop is quite different to how you preach it as a mum, an office worker, a football player, or whatever and whoever you are. But there are a couple of things that apply to us all, as identified by Saint Pope Paul VI back in 1975 when the Church was thinking a lot about how to proclaim the Gospel in the modern world. His words are still apt today. The first: “Above all” he says, “the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness.”ii

He goes on, and I paraphrase slightly, “Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity, and who also radiate in a simple and unaffected way their faith and hope. Through this wordless witness they stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see

how they live.” He concludes, “people listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”iii Nevertheless, words are also needed, and this is his second point. He says, “There is no true evangelization” (which simply means spreading the Gospel), “if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”iv

In our secular society in which there is also at times an anti-religious climate, it is tempting to not speak up about our faith. So, we must remember that the name of Jesus carries tremendous power. Whenever we speak his name with faith and love it will have an effect. So, I encourage all believers to not be afraid to say the name of Jesus and to tell people of your faith in him and his effect on your life. Your simple ‘nonpreachy’ words combined with your witness is the most effective way the Gospel of Jesus is spread.

Saint Paul exhorted us to preach the Gospel “in season and out of season”. It’s fair to say that because of our

monumental fault and failings in the protection of children and vulnerable people, the Church has been “out of season” for some time. It is therefore heartening that the 98% result from the recent rigorous and independent safeguarding audit of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle demonstrates that we have done our best to try and right past wrongs and are well on the way to a new and better safeguarding culture.

Nevertheless, our Church and Diocese have been greatly humbled by our failings. We have been torn down from our mountain, which is not such a bad thing. From the mountaintop we had to shout to be heard. But from the plain, where people live, work, and play, our quiet voices can be more easily heard, understood, and accepted by others.

And so, I have great hope for our humbled Church, poised to share the Gospel of Jesus with all – each of us with our own voice.

i 2 Timothy 4:2

ii Saint Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Proclaiming the Gospel), 1975, Paragraph 21

iii Ibid Paragraph 41

iv Ibid Paragraph 22

MY WORD - BISHOP MICHAEL KENNEDY
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One year on

It’s been one year since Bishop Michael Kennedy was installed as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. During that time he’s travelled to every corner of the Diocese to hear directly from the people he now leads.

Having moved to Newcastle from Armidale, one big adjustment has been trading walks in the bush for walks on the beach, but Bishop Michael’s main priority has been visiting as many diocesan parishes, schools, communities, and workplaces as he could.

“It’s a great privilege to lead the community in its prayer and to play a role in helping people feel a bit more touched by God in their life,” he said.

“It’s when I go home after those days that I really feel I’ve done what God’s called me to do.”

Like any big move or new job, Bishop Michael said he has faced normal challenges during his time here, however, he has also learned valuable lessons regarding trust.

“It’s taught me to trust more, both in God and other people. I have to let go more often now than I have in the past, both before being a priest and a Bishop,” he said.

“I’ve had to let go, and trust others to do what they’ve been asked to do, and also place trust in God that He will bring what we’re doing to fruition.

“It’s made me reflect on the concept of trust, and how important it is, at all levels in every aspect of our life as a Diocese, as a Church, how important it is in all relationships, and in everything we undertake.”

The theme of trust has underpinned the Diocese’s most significant milestones over the past 12 months. These include; the Diocese’s review of Religious Education & Spirituality in our schools and the Diocesan Pastoral Ministries; the independent safeguarding audit, and the dedication to healing and support.

As for the coming year, the Bishop’s objective is simple. To continue with all the good things that are already underway.

Bishop Michael said his primary focus would continue to be on the parishes, to support them in building themselves up as communities.

“A parish that’s fully vibrant, is one that’s not only praying together, not only growing their own faith, but also reaching out to others, identifying needs in the community and making a difference in the part of the world where we live. I want to continue building this,” he said.

“For me personally, my focus is always going to be proclaiming the Gospel. Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim the Gospel and to spread the Good News. We’ve always got to remember those basics.”

While he has a strong vision for the future, Bishop Michael acknowledges the Diocese has been through difficult times. The terrible sexual abuse that occurred and the failures that allowed it to go on, the impact of COVID and modern societal views on religion, have all taken a toll.

Facing tough times, he says, is not always a bad thing.

“Bishop Bill, before me, guided and pastored the people of this Diocese brilliantly through those challenging years. I think the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is a Church that’s been humbled. And that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

“The things that brought about the humbling are bad, and some of them evil. But to be humbled is not bad. We’re going into the future and we’re coming from a place of humility, and that is an excellent starting point.

“I feel a great sense of hope in the Diocese. The focus is outwards toward the world around us. We’re hopeful about the future. We’re poised to go into the years ahead with humility, hope and optimism.”

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Measuring good governance

While the Catholic Church is recognised by many as the oldest institution in the western world, an understanding of how the Church is governed is probably less prevalent.

This, however, is important, as the governance of the Catholic Church, and more specifically our Diocese, is critical in ensuring we serve the community so that they may experience life to the fullest.

The governance of the Catholic Church is a complex structure which at its core, merges church law, spiritual guidance and administrative functionality.

The Pope, as the head of the Catholic Church, is the leader on all matters relating to faith and morals. Pope Francis is supported by the College of Cardinals, who act as advisors on all matters including administrative, financial and operational.

Bishops oversee individual dioceses and the priests who serve within those dioceses. The Bishops are accountable to the Pope and are entrusted to uphold his teachings and decisions.

Canon law governs the Church’s affairs, addressing matters ranging from sacraments to governance and discipline. Additionally, councils and

synods provide forums for discussion and decision-making on important issues facing the church.

The structure of the Catholic Church’s governance reflects a balance between tradition and adaptability, seeking to uphold its core principles while responding to the needs and challenges of the modern world.

The Bishop, in his role as leader of the Diocese, must make decisions which help to direct the Diocese. He does not do this in isolation but receives advice from his clergy through the Council of Priests and College of Consultors. He also receives advice from lay people through the Diocesan Finance Council, Diocesan Advisory Board, Pastoral Council, Social Justice Council and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Ministry Council.

The reason for this is simple; it is imperative we have the right people,

with the right skills, providing the right advice that represents our values.

One of our measures of good governance is through our Diocesan Advisory Board (DAB). An independent board of individuals who provide input and advice to the Bishop in the decision making he must undertake.

The board members have visibility and input across many aspects of the broader operations, including forecasts and budgets, risk management, financial reports and strategic direction of the Diocese.

While all decisions ultimately remain with the Bishop and The Trustees, the DAB provides valuable and extensive counsel which offers diverse perspectives and varied lived experiences.

A priority for the Diocese this year is on continuing to strengthen the Diocesan Advisory Board.

Reflective of the communities we

serve, we strive to build a board that is made up of diverse backgrounds, genders and experience.

We encourage anyone with a background in areas such as education, childcare, social services, community housing, accounting, audit, legal, finance, banking, property, governance or risk to consider expressing their interest in joining the Board.

Some benefits of being a board member include service to the Church and wider community, fellowship, skills enhancement, and leadership, professional and personal development.

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle encourages applications from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as people with a disability or areas in which Diocesan agencies work.

Visit QR code for more information

- SEAN SCANLON - 6 -
CEO

A duty to help

Hear from the former members of the Diocesan Advisory Board

John O’Connor

John O’Connor works at Port Waratah Coal Services and has a background spanning nearly forty years in IT Operations and Business Risk Management across varied industries. John volunteered to serve on the Diocesan Advisory Board (DAB) from 2018 until 2023.

John said the diversity of experience and expertise in the DAB membership was excellent and exposed him to a variety of matters and issues.

“It was energising to work on a Board that was a constant source of knowledge and inspiration, which applied to a wide range of operational, statutory, business, risk and asset management topics,” said John.

“I have taken so much from the generous participation of other members. It is a collegial team, where all members were willing to listen and to grant the opportunity for you to provide your perspective and knowledge.”

“One minute you might be talking about how you can support [Community] Kitchens and then you’re talking about the Diocese building a high school or making some other socioeconomic contribution.

“There’s pastoral, finance, welfare, and statutory matters, it’s varied and interesting and different. It’s not just the usual business planning or corporate matters,” he continued. Having served on regional grassroots sporting committees and superannuation trustee company boards, John found the structure of the DAB was different to what he knew, but a valuable learning.

“As a member of an Advisory Board you are there as a point of external experience and expertise, not as the decision point, and that’s not typically common in a corporate Board setting. You’re there to give your best advice and make recommendations. Decisions might be made based on this advice, and potentially from other advice, but ultimately it isn’t up to you. And you learn that’s ok,” said John.

When asked what he valued the most about his time on the Board, he said, “I never sensed any selfinterest from other members. And because of that, you were always listened to. Your opinion was valued. Even if it wasn’t agreed with, it was valued. And that was a really healthy thing and something I will continue to carry forward both in my professional life and personal life.”

“It was energising to work on a Board that was a constant source of knowledge and inspiration...”

Paul Crosbie

Paul Crosbie was the Chair of the DAB (at which time it was known as the Diocesan Finance Council and Diocesan Audit Committee) for nearly 12 years.

Paul says during his time as Chair he saw a lot of success which he attributes to the leadership and staff effort of the Diocese. Paul saw the introduction of St Nicholas Early Education, including the OOSH and Pathways programs, as well as the introduction of affordable housing, the expansion of CatholicCare and quality outcomes in building and expanding new and existing schools.

“It was positive. There was nothing negative about what we were doing. Every agency in the Diocese was optimistic and looking ahead and it was great to be there, listen to them and in a small way, help

them,” said Paul.

“The Board gave us a chance to make strong relationships, and I think all of us would be able to look back with a bit of satisfaction at what was achieved. I have a lot of confidence and comfort with the Diocese through the structures and protocols they have in place.”

When asked if he would recommend joining the Board to others, Paul said certainly.

“I think being on the Board comes from feeling a duty to help. I followed that duty and I’m very happy to think that I did do it and I was very satisfied with the results.

"The purpose, of course, was always being a small cog in the Diocesan’s world and ultimately, enabling the spreading of the Word of the Lord.”

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Diocese launches Project Compassion

Hundreds of people attended the Diocesan launch of Project Compassion in February.

Spanning across the six weeks of Lent, the annual campaign from Caritas Australia raises funds for people living in the most vulnerable parts of the world.

“Project Compassion is an extraordinary demonstration of the faith, empathy, and generosity of our supporters,” Caritas

Trinity unveils new look

St Pius X High School, Adamstown will become Trinity Catholic College from the commencement of the 2025 school year.

Planning for the launch of Trinity Catholic College has continued, following feedback and consultation regarding the new name from the school and wider community across 2022 and 2023.

Last month, the new motto and visual identity for Trinity Catholic College was unveiled.

The new visual identity is bold, confident and contemporary. It connects elements of the school community, honouring the past and

Australia’s Supporter Services and Philanthropy Associate Director Abby Jones said.

“It is the lifeblood of Caritas Australia; without it, we could not do the vital work that we do.”

The launch event saw people from our Parishes, schools, agencies and community come together. They enjoyed a special Liturgy with Bishop Michael Kennedy, Samoan dancing, music and pancakes.

To learn more or donate to Project Compassion, visit QR code

Year of Prayer

Pope Francis has declared 2024 a Year of Prayer ahead of the 2025 Jubilee. He is calling on the faithful “to intensify prayer to prepare us to live well this event of grace and to experience the power of God’s hope.”

The year will encourage people to rediscover the value and need for prayer in one’s personal life, the Church and the world.

2024 Christian Formation Course

providing a fresh look for the future.

For more detail visit

QR code

Thank you to our Foster Carers

Foster Carers from CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning’s Permanency Support Program were celebrated at a special lunch in February.

The event was an opportunity to acknowledge all their hard work and the support and love they offer the children and young people in their care.

The day included guest speakers, a lucky door prize, connection, and collaboration.

The lunch was hosted and supported by Rydges Newcastle.

To learn more about becoming a Foster Carer visit QR code

Each year the Diocese of MaitlandNewcastle offers a unique opportunity with our Christian Formation Course. The course is a face-to-face learning experience allowing participants to explore their life’s journey and their Catholic faith. Over one year, the course introduces participants to scripture, theology, church history, sacramental life and liturgy. Upon completion, participants will receive a Diocesan Certificate in Christian Formation. Expressions of interest are open now for the 2024 course commencing 23 July.

For further information, visit QR code

Save the Date!

The official opening of the Diocesan Library will take place on Friday 31 May and will be followed by the Tenison Woods Education Community (TWEC) dinner.

The library will be accessible for Library Patrons from 26 February and is located within the Diocesan Resource Centre, 12 Tudor St (corner of Tudor and Parry St Newcastle).

Library opening hours:

Monday and Friday 10am-6pm

Saturday 10am-2pm

If you are interested in volunteering at the library email: domnlibrary@mn.catholic.org.au

CATHOLIC NEWS FROM ACROSS THE DIOCESE
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AND AROUND THE WORLD

Young Citizens of the Year

Olivia Hughes

Olivia is an Early Childhood SchoolBased Trainee (SBAT) with St Nicholas Pathways and has been awarded Newcastle City’s 2024 Young Citizen of the Year.

As a dedicated member of Nobby's SLSC since the age of five, Olivia teaches Nippers to children with disabilities and regularly volunteers with sporting events in the community. She also holds craft workshops for sick children at Ronald McDonald House and regularly raises funds for a range of charities.

Emmaus awards

Members of the Catholic Schools Maitland-Newcastle community filled Sacred Heart Cathedral on Tuesday 6 February for the annual Called to Serve Mass. The theme for this year’s Mass was Follow Me. The Mass was presided by Bishop Michael Kennedy who described the occasion as an “opportunity for the Catholic school community to express their commitment to serve the mission of Jesus Christ in the ministry of Catholic school education.”

Have your say

Charlise

Anderson

Charlise has been elected as 2024 School Captain at St Joseph’s Catholic College, Aberdeen, and has been awarded Muswellbrook Shire Council’s 2024 Young Citizen of the Year.

Charlise has represented the Upper Hunter at the National Leadership Summit in Adelaide, initiating the Upper Hunter Leadership Summit for 2024 and taking part in the Young Endeavour Youth Scheme and the Civics and Citizenship program held at NSW Parliament. She has also received a Diocesan Academic Award of Excellence and played an integral role in the Where There’s a Will Student Wellbeing Team.

The Emmaus Awards were presented by Bishop Michael Kennedy and Head of Catholic Schools, Steve Lemos, and recognise and celebrate the significant contribution made by our staff in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Congratulations to all the award recipients who have demonstrated passion for mission and a strong commitment to Catholic Education.

To see the award recipients as nominated by their peers, visit QR code:

In October 2022, the Diocesan Trustees authorised a review of the Religious Education & Spirituality Team supporting schools, and the Diocesan Pastoral Ministries team.

One of the next steps is to hold a series of listening opportunities, where we can hear directly from our

clergy, our parishes, our people, our schools, and families on this matter.

We want to hear from all those wanting to share their vision and voice. Read more background and have your say via the QR code.

To read more Catholic news from across the Diocese of MaitlandNewcastle and around the world visit www.mnnews.today or scan the QR code below. There, you will also find links to upcoming events, important dates for your diary and to live stream Sunday Mass from Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Charlise Anderson
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Olivia Hughes

War, worry and waiting:

Hanif and Siamoi find happiness

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A country full of conflict, time spent in hiding, and two years separated by more than 9,500 kilometres could not stop Hanif and Siamoi from loving each other.

They’ve been through more than most couples are likely to ever experience but their feelings for each other have never been stronger.

It all started in Afghanistan a couple of decades ago.

They were born in the same place and grew up on the same street, just a few houses away from each other.

And, while cultural norms prevented a romantic relationship or close friendship before marriage, their story is a genuine case of love at first sight.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, Hanif and his family sought refuge in Australia. Devastatingly, he was forced to leave Siamoi behind but not before marrying her in secret first.

“I came to Australia with my family three years ago,” Hanif said.

“We went through such a risky and difficult situation to get out of Afghanistan, from Kabul to the border of Pakistan, the police could get us, so we were in hiding while there was an investigation by the Taliban – they wanted to arrest us and take us.”

Hanif and his family were able to hide until they received assistance from the Australian Embassy and were granted

visas to travel to Australia.

“We then had a flight to Dubai and then to Darwin where we had to enter quarantine because of COVID,” he said.

After months of living in fear of the Taliban, they finally touched down in Australia, however, Hanif said his situation only got worse.

“During the first two years of being here I was sick because even though my whole family could get a visa, my wife was left behind,” he said.

“I had a problem with my mental health, life was hard without her.”

Hanif and Siamoi married in secret in an effort to keep her safe while she remained in Afghanistan. Many single women were taken by the Taliban and married off to its members. The thought of this happening to Siamoi broke Hanif’s heart and he was determined to reunite them.

“We married quickly because I wanted, first of all, to make sure she is married and the Taliban wouldn’t abuse her and secondly I promised that no matter how long it took I would wait and do what I could so my wife could join me in Australia,” he said.

Hanif began searching for a migration lawyer who could help him. After

getting nowhere he was introduced to Registered Migration Agent, Mirja Colding-Moran, and the CatholicCare Refugee Hub – for the first time in years he felt a sense of hope.

His dream of being reunited with Siamoi could now come true. There were many more months of waiting and a mountain of paperwork to submit but, with support from Mirja and Hanif’s older sister Homaira, the lovebirds were finally reunited in December 2023.

“I want to say a serious thank you [to Homaira, Mirja and the Refugee Hub], I love Siamoi and now I am better because she is here,” Hanif said.

“I can enjoy my life now because I am happy.”

Mirja is honoured to have a played a part in their story.

“Navigating the maze that is Australian migration law is a complex and timeconsuming process at the best of times,” she said.

“We were applying for a partner visa with the added hurdles of language barriers, lack of formal documentation and limited access to internet and IT equipment in Afghanistan. It was certainly a challenge

to pull it together to ensure that Siamoi would meet the criteria.”

Mirja said she got very emotional when she finally received Siamoi’s visa grant.

“Seeing the joy and relief on their faces now when they are finally reunited makes the challenging journey to get to this point all worth it,” she said.

“You get quite emotionally invested in your clients when you need to work so closely on such personal matters. I am incredibly happy for them and excited to see them finally able to build a future together and make their aspirations a reality.”

The devoted couple are both eager to pursue careers in the medical industry after improving their English skills.

“I would really like to become a midwife, a person who delivers babies,” Siamoi said.

“I would like to study. In Afghanistan I never could.”

The Taliban forbids girls and women from receiving an education.

Hanif was previously a qualified nurse at a hospital in Afghanistan and would now like to resume his nursing career in Australia.

“I said to Siamoi you can start your dream now, first improve your English and then study to be a Midwife. In Australia, you can do your dream,” he said.

Hanif and Siamoi are just two of hundreds of people the CatholicCare Refugee Hub has supported.

Can you help the Refugee Hub aid more people?

“As Refugee Hub’s funding is very limited, making a donation, if you are able, is an easy but very effective way of allowing us to assist more people from refugee backgrounds to reach safety, be reunited with family, and settle well in Australia,” Mirja said.

VOLUNTEER
DONATE*
*tax-deductible donation - 11 -
catholiccare.org.au/volunteer
catholiccare.org.au/donate

Alpha course unites young people

When you hear the word Catholic what comes to mind?

Is it a church? A priest? Maybe it’s a specific prayer or bible verse?

While these are all wonderful things, I want you to imagine a different scene. Picture a room full of young people bonding over their faith and love of Jesus. They’re sharing the joy of the Gospel over food, conversation, and music.

Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Well, that’s exactly what happened at the University of Newcastle Catholic Society’s recent Alpha course.

The society opened up a space for people to learn about Christianity, make new connections and experience personal growth.

Run with support from the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Pastoral Ministries team, the program gave participants the chance to find comfort while they worked through the different things that were happening in their lives.

Attendee Joshua Latimore describes Alpha as a place to create a community and bond.

“The Alpha experience was a series of courses over 11 weeks where a small group of people, including myself, met together for a meal and a discussion, and then we watched some videos about different aspects of Christianity and then we would have a small group discussion,” he explained.

“It was a really good opportunity to talk and experience growth and see what other people’s perspectives on certain matters were and connect with other young people about the faith.”

Josh joined the group because he was curious and wanted to meet with people who were in a similar stage of life as him.

“It was good to step out and meet new

people and grow in that community and bond with others,” he said.

“I loved seeing how other people connect to their faith, it allowed me to appreciate my faith more because I could see how broad and diverse the methods that God works within are.”

He encourages anyone interested to attend an Alpha session.

“What do you have to lose? If you’re someone who has a few questions about faith it’s a great opportunity to come along and get some answers,” he said.

Mary-Anne DeLuca, Mission and Outreach Officer at the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle echoed Josh’s sentiments.

“Alpha gives people the opportunity to delve deeper into important questions in life around faith, meaning, and purpose,” she said.

“It is always a privilege to hear about how other people think and what they believe in and to grapple with our own ideas and motivations for believing or not believing, as we contemplate faith and its relevancy and connection to our lives and world today.”

She encourages more parishes and communities to get involved with Alpha.

“This is a great opportunity for people to grow and to discover the joy of the gospel,” Mary-Anne said.

“I would be so excited to share this with any person or group who may be interested in running the series.”

To learn more about Alpha, visit alpha.org.au

If you’re interested in attending or running an Alpha series and would like support, please email communityandmission@mn.catholic.org.au

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Weathering mental health struggles associated with the cost-of-living crisis

It feels as though the topic on most people’s lips in my community today is far from our typical discussions around recent holidays or even the excitement of kids going back to school after their summer break.

Rather, the prevailing sentiment dominating conversations is all about the rising cost of living.

So many people are feeling suffocated as they deal with this inflation and their shrinking household budgets.

Interest rates, food, energy and fuel prices, are just some of the everyday expenses that have risen dramatically.

Increased and prolonged financial pressure and accompanying stress can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, as well as trigger new concerns, like depression and anxiety.

functional and well-balanced relationships and family units.

Complicating the strain many people feel right now is the human desire to acquire material possessions or to provide goods or opportunities for family members, despite not necessarily having the financial means to do so.

So, how do we take control of this firestorm, and ensure that we get to the other side in one piece?

Here are a few points to consider that will be useful in assisting our financial and mental fortitude:

• Be willing to not have it all. Our desires are endless, but they do not always correlate with the reality of our financial or mental wellbeing. Rather, decide on what your priorities are, and this process in itself will help determine what is necessary versus what we desire.

of gratitude that allows us to be present and living in the moment.

Physical impacts of these stressors could include problems like hypertension (highblood pressure), and other inflammatory and stress-related conditions.

In short, the current cost-of-living crisis not only threatens to impact our wallets, but if not managed well, also has the capacity to harm our mental health, physical wellbeing, and ultimately, our ability to maintain

No matter what hurdles you may be facing in life, seeking help from a qualified mental health professional is always a positive step in managing challenges. A trained clinician has the necessary skills to help you navigate the “storm” in a caring and meaningful way. You do not have to face these challenges on your own. There is always help available.

For more information on the Rosewood Centre visit rosewoodcentre.com.au or call 1800 613 155.

• Prioritise relationships above material goods. Investing in the quality of our relationships, improved communication, and pursuing the sense of community and belonging that we achieve when our relationships are strong is the perfect antidote to the desire to accumulate possessions. Moreover, the resulting sense of connection we are likely to feel will have a positive impact on our mental health as a result of the many feel-good hormones being released in our brains. The benefits to our well-being are endless.

• Practice gratitude. Practicing a sense of gratitude allows us to focus on what we have, as opposed to focusing on what we do not have. It is that same sense

• Remember, it is human nature to feel anxious about things we can’t control and that are unpredictable and this can often lead to avoidance. Take action where you can – such as working on a budget as a family, where essentials are prioritised, and review together at regular intervals. This will assist in financial management as well as breaking big worries into smaller, more manageable bite-size chunks. Establish healthy routines, and avoid making unhelpful coping choices like excessive alcohol or gambling. These are short-term escapes and eventually make financial and stress-related problems much worse.

• Community support is available – there are options for free counselling, financial counselling services, as well as direct practical support such as food services. Don’t hesitate to seek the help that’s available to you, if it means it will help you get to the other side.

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Wrapped in love

“I’m stronger than I think I am. I’m tougher than I think I am.”

These are the defiant words of 13-yearold Emma Walsh.

She is a daughter, a sister, a student, a friend. She is also fighting an insidious illness - acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

A graduate of St Paul’s Primary School, Gateshead, who now attends St Mary’s Catholic College, Gateshead, Emma had no idea she would miss close to two years of school after presenting with swollen glands in July 2022.

Initially, three rounds of blood tests, ultrasounds and chest x-rays all came back normal, but Emma’s doctors and family knew something wasn’t right.

A subsequent trip to the emergency room, and another chest x-ray, finally revealed Emma had so many lymph nodes that her oesophagus was almost blocked.

An emergency bone marrow aspirate and biopsy confirmed a cancer diagnosis and overnight the Walsh’s home became the hospital.

Emma had been competing at a dance competition in Sydney, like so many other 11-year-olds, just a week before.

Over the last two years, Emma has been undergoing intense chemotherapy which has taken an enormous toll. Her mother, Alex Walsh, described the treatment as being, “enough to almost kill you, but just not actually kill you”. The aim is to hit the cancer cells with poison and continue this for some time after zero cancer cells are detected, to ensure it doesn’t grow back.

Alex said the chemotherapy had hit Emma very hard, causing liver failure, kidney issues, changes to the brain, damage to her heart and osteoporosis which resulted in the need for a wheelchair.

“Our routine became either Emma’s Dad or myself staying with Emma,” said Alex.

“After school, Emma’s brother and sister would come to the hospital, we’d spend the afternoon at the hospital together and have dinner together. There were a lot of UberEATS, and then one of us would stay with Emma while the other three went home.”

While plenty of YouTube and Young Sheldon is what Emma prescribed herself for entertainment, she also found something else to focus on which has given her immense purpose.

After spending over 150 nights in the John Hunter Hospital, Emma was confident she knew exactly what was needed to make kids feel comfortable during their hospital stay.

With this knowledge, Emma’s Warriors was born.

Despite her devastating illness, Emma managed to start a charity which provides bespoke backpacks, offering a little bit of home, specifically for teens and tweens undergoing hospital treatment.

The ethos of the charity is simple - “I want to support other warriors just like me,” said Emma.

Containing bed sheets, bath towels, lip balm, fairy lights, room spray, moisturiser, white noise machines and iTunes gift cards, the backpacks are a toolkit to improve the quality of a lengthy hospital stay.

“It’s not just for cancer, it’s for any kind of sickness. I sort of realised after being in hospital that there’s a lot of reasons that kids end up there, and it’s a way to make it a little nicer for them,” said Emma.

A self-proclaimed internet shopping queen, Emma orders the materials to her house and packs the backpacks from her lounge room. Working with social workers at the hospital to identify where the need is, the Walsh family are paying it forward, one backpack at a time.

“Emma’s in the perfect position to do this – she is living it right now. She knows what’s needed,” said Alex.

The charity also supports families with practical and financial support.

Some of the proudest moments to date include donating a freezer to Ronald McDonald House, gifting physiotherapists at John Hunter a Nintendo Switch to help children in appointments, helping a family with flights to Melbourne to undergo treatment, and even supporting a family with funeral costs after they lost their child to their own cancer battle.

“It’s beautiful that we can say yes to helping people because of the support given to the charity,” said Alex.

When asked if Emma’s Warriors was something she wanted to work on forever, the answer was yes.

Alex supports Emma in her mission. “It’s exciting, but it’s kind of scary. Once you dig a bit deeper, you see the need is there for something like this,” Alex said. “You can’t help but just think we have to keep pushing forward. Don’t wait,

because families need your support.”

Emma said the thing that has surprised her the most throughout her journey was the amount of silver linings.

“Sometimes you have to look a bit harder for them. But they’re there,” agreed Alex. “It’s the most horrendous time of your life. But we’ve never felt more gratitude for the people around us and what we have.

“Humans are good. You go through this, and you’re like, wow.”

Alex teaches kindergarten at St Paul’s Primary School in Gateshead and said from the first day of Emma’s cancer journey, she felt supported.

Whether it be the delivery of meals, care packages, pool maintenance or house cleaning, it was apparent the Walsh’s had a village supporting them and that village was showing up.

Although Emma missed her Year 6 graduation and the first day of Year 7, both schools have still involved her at every opportunity.

“Everyone has gone above and beyond to include me as much as possible,” said Emma.

From moving the final Year 6 mass down to a bigger hall so an immunocompromised Emma could attend after a long hospital stay, through to her classroom robot, which dials her in from her hospital bed, Emma is evidently a much-loved member of the school community.

“The parish support, the prayers and messages, even a vigil that was held for Emma, it has all been phenomenal,” said Alex. 

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“I’m stronger than I think I am. I’m tougher than I think I am.”
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“To know we have had that support the whole time, we couldn’t ask for more. We know how blessed we are. We’ve just been wrapped in so much love.”

While Emma is now in the maintenance phase of her chemotherapy, the family continues to pay it forward.

In addition to Emma’s Warriors, the Walsh family is also passionate about educating people on the significance of blood donation.

“Before this happened, we thought blood was for car accidents, women in labour and stuff like that. We had no idea the oncology kids relied on these blood products so heavily,” Alex said.

“Emma has had so many blood platelets and plasma transfusions in her time, and these products literally keep her alive so her body can cope with the chemotherapy.

“It’s really scary because you’re relying on donations - it’s not like it can be made in a lab.”

Calling on her village of support, last year Emma encouraged people to donate blood.

“Team Emma” came fifth in Newcastle, with almost 300 people donating blood, helping to save around 900 lives.

Jemma Falkenmire from LifeBlood said 36 bags of platelets each month. Four donors every year to support them. If you’re able to donate, we really do

The Walsh’s broader aims this year include growing the charity and encouraging more blood donations, while their personal goals are firmly focused on getting Emma walking again

“During this phase, we can really focus on rehab, we can start to get back to a

“Maintenance will go until around November and then we’re having the

When asked about the most significant lesson learned through Emma’s treatment, Alex said it was about strength.

“I think we’ve all got strength. It’s not a matter of honour. You just have to do it. The strength is there, and you just have to find it. You have to push through. You have to look at the positives,” she said.

“We feel really blessed that although it’s been a really rocky start to Emma’s journey, she’s doing well now.

“And we're so grateful for that, because there's been a lot of beautiful little friends that haven't been as fortunate as Emma to make it this far.”

For more information on blood donation visit www.lifeblood.com.au

For more information on Emma’s Warriors, follow on Instagram

Stability builds strength

A young child, a cancelled work shift, an unexpected bill, a relationship breakdown.

Just one of these stressors can make an impact in your life; all combined might make a pretty tough week; but imagine also being unsure whether you will still have a roof over your head in the coming month.

Elissia is all too familiar with this scenario. She and her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, moved house four times in one year to stay ahead financially until one day there was nowhere else to go.

“I was looking at all my options and really worried I’d be homeless,” she said.

“I started taking on extra shifts at my work, I had just bought my first cheap car and I genuinely made plans that I would have to live in it and arrange something else for my daughter.”

Everybody’s Home wrote in its submission to the Federal Government’s Measuring What Matters report: “Homes are central to our health and wellbeing. Homes are the foundation for stable families and strong communities.

Housing in Australia has never been less affordable or more volatile. Australians are spending record amounts on housing, and more and more people in every age group and demographic are

living in housing stress.”

In the 2018-19 Social Justice Statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference wrote, “Housing is fundamental to the wellbeing and equal opportunity of every citizen. Social exclusion is inevitable where secure and affordable housing is lacking.”

“Everyone deserves a place to call home,” the statement concluded.

With nowhere to go, Elissia was terrified of the future. She knew she had to find help to avoid homelessness. “That period wasn’t fun – I was very stressed,” Elissia said. “In the end, Ava is the reason why I asked for help.”

Hunter Community Housing seeks to provide crucial housing and additional support to people in need.

Having learned of Hunter Community Housing (HCH) via CatholicCare, Elissia reached out to HCH General Operations Manager, Jessica Bentley, for help.

“I remember I turned to Jess and I was crying and holding Ava on my hip thinking what on earth am I going to do,” Elissia said.

“Jess has been so helpful. She advocated for me and helped me find a house. She’s given me updates every step of the way and that support has been a huge help.”

Jessica said the evidence is clear - stable housing plays a critical role in helping people in all areas of their lives.

Springing into action, Jessica worked with Elissia to find a tenancy and sign a lease with community partner, CatholicCare.

Often one of the barriers to entering the rental market, aside from sky rocketing rents, is rental history.

“Many of the young people we support get overlooked. So in the case of Elissia, we advocated for her with our community partner who had a property available,” Jessica said.

“What’s important is she’s paying market rent and signed the lease with the landlord like any other rental process, giving her that rental history.”

Jessica said there was no question Elissia was a hard worker who knew what she needed to do, but she needed some support to get there.

“There were certainly some odds stacked against her. Many government funding programs can be complex and not all options were available based on her circumstances so we had to think a bit outside the box. But it’s really working,” she said.

Having somewhere stable for her and her daughter to live has seen Elissia go from strength to strength.

“Secure housing is the difference; she’s set herself up now and I have no doubt she can do whatever she wants to do,” Jessica said.

Elissia agrees the stability had made a huge difference in her life.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to move again in the next 12 months,” she laughs.

“I know where I am and my surroundings. I want to keep working where I am and it’s so nice to not have that uncertainty of where I might be. Ava is in childcare and really settled so it’s helped in so many ways.”

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Safeguarding commitment is clear

“I was nervous going into the process. The people of the Diocese, particularly the volunteers and staff in parishes, have been working with the Office of Safeguarding over the past few years to ensure that we have good safeguarding practices. I believe that the Diocese has undertaken a significant journey, and that we had developed a strong safeguarding culture.

“But you never know what external experts will think.”

These are the words of Executive Manager of the Office of Safeguarding (OoSG), Zoe Marr.

During the second half of 2023 the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle underwent an external audit to test its compliance with Edition Two of the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (‘the Standards’). The Standards were developed in response to the findings and recommendations of recent Royal Commissions into the abuse of children and vulnerable people.

The purpose of the Standards, and this audit, was to ensure the safety of those who encounter the Church.

The Most Rev Michael Kennedy, Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, asked that the audit be particularly rigorous, as he wanted people to feel confident about the results. The audit was conducted by Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd. (ACSL) and Prolegis Lawyers, whose senior auditor was a solicitor for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Diocese has achieved an outstanding result with 98% of the Standards’ indicators being assessed as being ‘Developed and Embedded’ or ‘Developed’. The ACSL-Prolegis Audit Report summarised their findings:

The NCSS assessment of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle indicates that the Diocese is successfully implementing and embedding a culture of safeguarding throughout its organisation.

The excellent audit result can be attributed to the unwavering commitment of Diocesan leadership, particularly the late Bishop Bill Wright, the former Diocesan Administrator Rev Greg Barker, and has continued under the guidance of the recently installed Bishop Michael Kennedy. The expertise and dedication of diocesan personnel, particularly those in the parishes and schools that participated in the on-site audit, was extraordinary and demonstrated the Diocese’s clear and persistent commitment to safeguarding. Some of the people most directly involved in the process were asked to reflect on their experiences and what the audit meant for them:

Fr Joseph Figurado is the Parish Priest at All Saints Blackbutt South. Having grown up and been called to the priesthood in Sri Lanka, Fr Jospeh has undertaken a journey of faith, becoming a part of the Diocese. Fr Jospeh has ministered to

the people of All Saints Blackbutt South since February 2020.

“I have gone through many changes in my life, opening me to personal and spiritual growth. Our Diocese has been going through change and growth, adopting safeguarding into our Church life.

“It has been incredibly encouraging to see the audit results. I feel it highlights our significant progress in our safeguarding journey. We know what the standards are, and these practices are embedded in our daily life of the Church and community.

“This audit marks a positive milestone for All Saints Blackbutt South and the whole Diocese. It was the cooperation and support between our parish, Nichola McCarthy, our Parish Support Worker and the Office of Safeguarding that helped make these results happen.”

Rebecca Piefke is a Youth Ministry Coordinator and Safeguarding Promoter in the Chisholm Pastoral Region in and around Maitland. During the audit, Rebecca gathered documentation and supported the Diocese in ensuring processes were compliant with the Standards along with her leadership of a thriving youth ministry.

“I felt that the audit process was a positive experience. It highlighted my Parish’s commitment to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults –something that is incredibly important.

“I hope that people who might have a negative view on the church will see that we are committed to safeguarding moving

forward. Through this audit and the findings of the Royal Commission, it goes to show that we will go to great lengths to ensure that anyone who is a part of our community is safe and protected.”

Nichola McCarthy is a Parish Support Worker, based in the Bishop’s Office. With a sound understanding of the Diocese and well-established relationships with Diocesan clergy, Nichola commenced her role in late March 2023.

“For my first nine months as Parish Support Worker I was focused on supporting the Diocese prepare for the audit, primarily through liaising with parishes, facilitating training and providing advice and support on preparing for the audit. The Office of Safeguarding had developed and gathered a lot of support material for parishes. Sometimes it was about making people aware of all this material, where to access it and how to apply it.”

One of Nichola’s primary takeaways from the audit was how conscientious the people in the Diocese are about the safeguarding space.

Everyone really cared and wanted to make sure they got it right.

When reflecting on what this positive result means for the Diocese, Nichola said it’s lifted the spirits of everyone.

“It signifies we’re doing really well and we’re implementing the right systems. Everyone knows this is a part of our life. We have to move forward, and we are happy to do what is required to keep everyone safe.

“We are doing our utmost and absolute best to work towards keeping children and vulnerable adults safe.”

Anne Millard is the Director of Music at Sacred Heart Cathedral and Promoter of Safeguarding for St Benedict Parish and for the Inner-City region. Anne’s role in the audit was to evaluate processes and ensure the Parish was meeting the Standards. Having been one of many in the Inner City region who gave so generously of themselves, Anne surmised the process of the audit in two words; daunting and wonderful.

“It’s interesting how a project can be both; a lot of work, but also really exciting because we got to examine what we do as well as think about things we hadn’t even considered.

“Our learning was massive, but we were also affirmed. We knew from the audit that we had taken steps to be careful.

“This audit means that we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on our history and ensure that we learn from it and make sure it never happens again.

“We want to make sure we have a safe environment for our children, and we are blessed at the Cathedral right now because we have a lot of young people who are volunteering. We need to make sure that they are always safe and it’s somewhere that they want to be for the rest of their lives.

“I think any opportunity to improve who we are and what we do is a good one.”

Nicole Charnock is the Assistant Principal at St Joseph’s Primary School

in Merewether. During the safeguarding audit, Nicole was tasked with pulling evidence together and measuring the schools compliance with the safeguarding standards.

“We really looked at all of our systems and practices and analysed how safeguarding is communicated to our staff, school community, families and students. We were continuously reminded that safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility.

“At first, looking at all the standards and what they entailed felt a little overwhelming. But then you recognise that within our school we’re doing these things every day, all of the time.

“We really do value safeguarding here at St Joseph’s. Our protection and value of students in our care was evident through this process.

“That was quite rewarding to have that feedback and know that we’re doing what we should be doing to keep students and families safe.”

The dedication of all involved was evident throughout the process, with the audit being broken into two distinct phases:

Phase One included the compilation of documentary and electronic evidence of compliance and was submitted on 29 September 2023. The Diocese’s submission was comprehensive, consisting of almost 43,000 words of text, supported by some 400 individual documents or web pages evidencing compliance with the Standards.

Phase Two was an on-site audit conducted by a team of seven personnel over a two-week period in mid-November. Members of the audit team visited the Diocese’s head offices, fourteen parishes (37% of the total parishes in the Diocese) and three schools. Over 100 diocesan clergy, employees, volunteers, parishioners, students and parents were interviewed as part of this process.

All of those who contributed to the audit results should be rightfully proud of their achievement.

While these results are outstanding, the Diocese will not become complacent in its efforts to improve. Over the coming year, the Diocese is determined to maintain the momentum on its safeguarding journey and continue the important work to improve its safeguarding structures, policies, practices and education so that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable persons is a wholly intrinsic part of everything the Diocese does.

The ACSL report of the audit of the Diocese is available for review and download from the ACSL website through the QR Code.

SAFEGUARDING IN OUR PARISHES The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle represents the Catholic Church in a region extending from Lake Macquarie to Taree and as far inland as Merriwa and Murrurundi. The parishes in the Diocese are the local communities of Christ’s faithful that constitute the living heart of our faith. The parishes of Maitland-Newcastle have made a unified commitment to be places of safety for all, particularly children and vulnerable persons. Parishes are welcoming, emphasising relationships, participation and inclusion. Clergy, staff and volunteers undergo the appropriate screening checks, safeguarding training and other induction processes and ongoing formation and training to maximise safe ministry across our parishes. Parish offices and mass centres in the Diocese display safeguarding material, including poster sized commitment statements (set out over the page), child-friendly safeguarding information, contact details for reporting abuse as well as brochures providing specific safeguarding information and guidance. Most parishes in Maitland-Newcastle have one or more dedicated ‘promoters of safeguarding who support their local community to address The Office of Safeguarding supports the parishes of the Diocese:  with the provision of an intake service that analyses concerns for children and vulnerable persons, providing advice and support to parish personnel, ensuring statutory reporting obligations are met and ensuring appropriate follow up to complaints, when warranted  with the provision of direct support and advice to parish leaders and the provision of templates, tools and other resources for parishes to use to promote compliance with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards and NSW Child Safe Standards  by coordinating the diocesan wide Promoters of Safeguarding Network for parish promoters  by providing both face-to-face and online safeguarding training for all parish personnel, including clergy, religious, paid and voluntary workers  by conducting investigations of parish personnel who are alleged to have abused a child or vulnerable person, or breached - 19 -

Walk the talk: Supporting your child’s health through active transport and activity at school

Recent data suggests that our children are falling well short of the Australian physical activity guidelines with only one in three children and adolescents engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

Beyond the clear physical health benefits, making physical activity a part of daily life supports overall wellbeing, promotes social connections, boosts mental health, and positively impacts academic performance.

Encouraging children and adolescents to meet these activity guidelines can be a challenge for some, but incorporating active transport, such as walking or cycling to school, presents an effective and enjoyable way to achieve these recommended levels of physical activity.

Research shows that despite the proximity of many schools, a significant number of primary school children are missing out on the benefits of walking or cycling to school.

Whether due to busy lifestyles, safety concerns, poor infrastructure of footpaths and facilities, or a lack of enthusiasm from our children, we're witnessing a new generation missing out on vital health benefits.

Supporting our children to use active transport

Recent data shows only 25 per cent of children walk or cycle to and from school. It is important to consider this opportunity for incidental exercise.

In January this year the State government has allocated $10 million to the Get NSW Active program to specifically deliver projects within walking catchments to primary schools.

In 2024, our schools are gearing up for two important initiatives from Transport for NSW: Walk Safely to School Day and Safety on Wheels. These annual events encourage primary school children to walk and commute safely to school.

Beyond promoting safe road user behaviours, it sheds light on the incredible benefits of active transport and physical activity for our kids.

Research highlights that children who walk or cycle to school show better concentration during the first few hours of the day as well as providing independence, improved health and self-confidence, and sets life-long sustainable travel habit patterns.

Encouraging active commuting is just one way to increase physical activity.

Supporting our children to be active at school

For the past two decades, the Catholic Diocese of MaitlandNewcastle’s schools have partnered with Hunter New England Health's Good for Kids, Good for Life program, to implement Live Life Well @ School.

This collaborative effort has resulted in over 85 per cent of our schools successfully adopting evidence-based healthy eating and physical activity programs.

Recognising the undeniable connection between physical activity and improved on-task behaviour, concentration, and academic performance as well as mental health benefits, our schools remain dedicated to fostering an active environment for our children.

One effective strategy is the incorporation of "energizers" – brief activity breaks designed to break up long periods of sitting time, getting our kids moving and ready to dive back into their lesson with renewed focus. For more information on the Good for Kids program visit Scan the QR code:

How to build confidence actively commuting:

• Give your child supervised practice in the traffic environment.

• Teach your child to be alert in a road environment.

• Show them and explain where is safest to cross the road.

• Point out danger, such as vehicles exiting driveways.

• Educate your child on stranger danger.

• Use pedestrian crossings and traffic lights correctly.

• Reinforce Stop! Look! Listen! Think! Every time you cross the road.

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Values as the North Star

In an era where organisations often articulate their values merely as words on a wall, St Nicholas sets itself apart by not only modelling its core values, but by weaving these values into the very fabric of its identity.

St Nicholas’ inaugural Values Awards, presented in December 2023, signify the provider of early childhood education and care’s commitment to cultivating a workplace culture where values are not just statements but guiding principles that shape daily operations.

By honouring team members with awards aligned to each of the Catholic Diocese’s of Maitland-Newcastle’s five core values — Compassion, Hope, Integrity, Justice, and Participation — St Nicholas transcends the commonplace, forging a deeper connection between the organisation and its workforce, and fosters a community where shared values serve as the driving force behind collective success.

In an effort to weave the spirit of recognition into the daily tapestry of the award recipients’ environment, St Nicholas’ Executive Leadership Team took to the road

to present the awards directly to honourees at their home centres.

“I feel honoured and privileged that my colleagues took the time to recognise the work that I do,” said Michelle Summers, an Educational Leader at St Nicholas Early Education Lochinvar, after receiving a St Nicholas’ Hope Award.

“I credit my success to the children I have been privileged to teach, as well as the Educators and Directors, both past and present that I have been lucky enough to work with.”

David Healy, Executive Director of St Nicholas, said the introduction of these annual awards highlights a proactive effort from the organisation to create a rewarding and values-driven workplace.

“Amidst unprecedented staffing shortages across the early childhood sector, we recognise the importance of celebrating the significant contribution

our educators make to our organisation and the communities we serve,” he said.

“St Nicholas' Values Awards form an integral component of this endeavour by not only acknowledging our team members’ outstanding efforts and achievements, but also reinforcing the magnitude of St Nicholas’ core values in every aspect of our operations.”

The Awards distinguish themselves from mere token recognition, embodying a genuine commitment to fostering the professional and personal development of team members.

Each recipient is rewarded with a prize designed to support their career growth. Notably, eligible awardees are gifted the opportunity to attend the Early Childhood Australia Conference in September 2024, providing a platform for valuable networking and exposure to best practices.

St Nicholas’ commitment to investing in Pathways’ Programs and retaining talent was also highlighted through practical technology packs being awarded to junior trainees to support with their ongoing learning and development.

The future at St Nicholas is not just a continuation but an evolution, promising exciting developments in 2024 and beyond that will further enrich the employee experience and amplify the culture of excellence that defines the organisation.

St Nicholas is set to introduce a forwardthinking Rewards Program in the coming months which aims to recognise collective achievements, demonstrating that the Values Awards are not just a moment in time; they are the stars that form the constellation of shared success at St Nicholas.

Pictured (L-R): Erica Wilkinson, Kerry-Ann Brown, Karen McNamara Pictured: St Nicholas Early Education Muswellbrook’s team with the centre’s children
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Pictured (L-R): Erica Wilkinson, Charlotte Bell, Karen McNamara

The Colour Purple

‘The Colour Purple’ is not only the title of one of my favourite books and the recently released film. For Christians, purple is the colour of Lent, the liturgical season which prepares us for and leads us into the Celebration of Easter. We are almost halfway through Lent 2024. This is a good time to pause and reflect on how we’re going.

Some of us are very familiar with the terrain of Lent. As a season it lasts for forty days, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding on the eve of Holy Thursday. It begins with the call to ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ issued as the minister uses ashes to inscribe our foreheads with the cross. Our church buildings and ministers are dressed in the colour purple. Many would say the season has a penitential feel. Some of us have joined a Lenten group to reflect on the Sunday Gospel. Some participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The terrain of Lent traditionally includes the invitation to pray, fast and give to the poor. Many of us have childhood

memories of giving up something for Lent – lollies was the big one. Perhaps some of us have continued this practice as adults. Tied up with this idea was the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent. While Church law changed a long time ago to abstaining from meat only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, many continue to find this practice a value and an important aspect of their Lenten journey. I have a fond memory of one of my brothers coming home one Ash Wednesday to announce to our dad with great pride that when he went out to lunch he remembered it was Ash Wednesday so ordered lobster! My dad looked at him and said, ‘I think you’ve missed the point!’

So, what is the point? What is the point of Lent in 2024 here in this place, in this world? What is the point of prayer, of fasting, of giving money to the poor, of abstaining and of community worship?

The call to ‘repent’ is not just about Lent. The whole Christian life is about repenting. It’s about planting ourselves so deeply in belief in the Gospel and love of God so deep that we live instinctively from it. We all know love changes us. Belief in and love of God will always lead to repentance. Prayer, fasting, abstinence and all our faith practices have no other purpose than our individual and communal repentance and lifelong conversion. Giving to the poor, not because we can afford to, but because we must, is an outcome of repentance, as is respect, right relationships, honesty, justice, mercy and compassion.

As someone once said, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Personally, this year I have felt called beyond familiarity with the terrain of Lent, to embrace it with new eyes and with a heart open to respond more deeply to the call to ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’

As I ponder the colour purple and the meaning of Lent, and assess my

journey so far, I am acutely aware of the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers across the globe due to war, violence, power struggles and climate change. Summer in Australia was marked by flood, fire, cyclone and drought. We are all in dire need for the peace of God to reign in our hearts. The world needs Catholics and all Christians to take Lent seriously so that we become what we pray:

(Lord) You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear.

You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead here I am.

‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ that peace may reign in all our hearts.

To read more about the Diocese of MaitlandNewcastle’s Lenten program for 2024 visit QR code

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Together, we can make a difference now, and For All Future Generations.
caritas.org.au/project-compassion 1800 024 413 #projectcompassion
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Discover your local Catholic School at an Open Day coming up near you.

mn.catholic.edu.au/schools/open-days/

Catholic Schools Open Days
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