An update from the Executive Director, Roger O’Halloran
A 1977 paper by Dermot Dorgan, a former Columban Missionary, and later Education Officer at both Australian Catholic Relief (now Caritas Australia) and Mercy Works, argued that “Mission without development is mission diminished and development without openness to mission is development diminished.” Palms is unique in integrating the principles of mission and development into preparation for international volunteering. We were pleased recently when Catholic Bishops of both Melbourne and Sydney endorsed Palms’ preparation by agreeing to cover the cost of preparing those from their dioceses who volunteer for a Palms assignment.
The integration recognised by Dorgan was articulated long before by Micah. At the 1991 Adelaide Conference celebrating the centenary of Rerum Novarum I was privileged to hear Fr. Donal Dorr outline a ‘Spirituality of Justice’ based on Micah that he professed leads us to Shalom, or Deep Peace. In 2001 Dorr’s model provided a foundation for Solidarity as expressed in Palms Values Statement which underpins what in 2013 we labeled Solidarity Volunteering. So how does Micah integrate the principles of mission and development?
Micah calls us to “Love tenderly”. Jesus affirms love of God and neighbour as the two most important commandments, making love central to our call to Mission. Many faith traditions posture that God and love are synonymous; a universal creative force that overcomes fear of difference such as can exist between cultures or sub-cultures. Palms approach is to start by “… engaging in mutually enriching and challenging relationships of understanding, acceptance and care with people of a culture different from one’s own.”
Lest these words of Fr. Roger Schroeder (SVD) roll off the tongue too easily and because it is a challenge, those who volunteer need to be prepared for love. Our willingness to open our hands and hearts is a start, but the way we do it may easily be misunderstood. One cannot expect an immediate return and we need to be ready for the possibility of rejection.
Being associated with a present or former oppressor, may see the oppressed recoil at the idea of an exchange of love as might an association with corrupt practice. (e.g. Previous acceptance of me as an Australian in Timor Leste was less assured after the airing of our government’s questionable tactics, including the use of listening devices, in the process of negotiating oil rights.) It will be difficult to exchange in any relationship that appears to be unequal. Differences in opportunity or power will give rise to mistrust, challenging a reciprocation of love.
An exchange of love requires justice. Palms call for Australians to volunteer is initiated by communities seeking assistance with skill Development for their organisations and individuals so that they might combat poverty. It also provides the opportunity to respond to Micah’s call to act justly.
Again such words can roll off the tongue easily. Imperative to assisting any economic or material development by those accepting the call is giving time to understand the social, cultural, spiritual and ecological context of their placement. The intention to act justly, like the intention to love across cultures needs to be matched by a commitment to preparation, in this case to comprehend the frameworks of good development.
The third element of Micah, integral to realizing love and justice, or effective participation in mission and development, suggests walking humbly with what Buddhists and Jains call ‘Omniscient Mind’; Christians and Jews ‘God’; Muslims, ‘Allah’; Hindus, ‘Brahma’ and indigenous Australians identify in their many different languages as creation, or perhaps the Cosmic Christ. The well qualified, experienced and skilled educators, health workers, administrators, trades people and development workers who volunteer have been programmed by our culture to achieve; to do rather than to be, and preparation needs to reprogram to avoid a perception of them in host communities as paternalistic, patronising or authoritarian.
Solidarity Volunteering requires that we act as pilgrims, learning from the understanding our hosts have about life before daring to offer our solutions to their problems. Palms’ preparation for and the learning Solidarity Volunteers glean in host communities builds their capacity to engage as prophets giving witness to love, justice and humility at home. This is capable of renewing our churches and transforming our Australian communities.
In covering the costs for volunteers from their dioceses this is the potential that the Archdioceses of Sydney and Melbourne have recognised. If it encourages other Bishops and organisations to collective ownership for building Palms integrated approach, such benefits will come home to us all.