By Roger O’Halloran
Are you gearing up for a special Christmas? It is the first without COVID restrictions for some time. As a first it can be done afresh. Appropriate to the theme of Christmas, one can embrace new life rather than just another commercial event.
In May, after several false starts, seven Australians, some of whom had waited more than two years to start a new life in a new community, completed Palms first Orientation Course in 28 months. Communities too had been living in anticipation of the new life opportunities that could be shared. It was Christmas; or at least another good representation of what Christmas is about.
As Palms Director I have been privileged with many offers of new life from our partner communities abroad. Each visit is a retreat; every dialogue prompts reflection and reevaluation of how justly I live, how tenderly I love, and how humbly I walk in this wounded yet wonderful world. However, when I return to Australia I feel drawn into a cultural milieu that encourages me to do the opposite and I have to admit to being easily tempted by the material joy that this appears to offer.
The emphasis on attaining material joy in Australia is strongly and successfully reinforced as an imperative built on individual achievement in a competitive culture. Without being cynical about individual achievement, by comparison, I fear the strength and connection of solidarity, and the joy of living for the common good has been lost. I fear too that the voices proclaiming this joy are in danger of being drowned out.
I have a strong belief in the erstwhile maximum “In union is strength”. My fear is that organisations concerned with justice and Peace, including Palms, have been scrambling during COVID (and before) to achieve strategies to advance their mission in the name of their core values and vision (or charism). Have we also acceded operationally to a competitive culture? Perhaps the retreat to our home office during COVID exacerbated a disconnect, and despite doing electronic face time, we continued a retreat into self-preservation in individual “survival” bunkers.
Appropriate to the message of Christmas, at Palms we have decided to climb out of our bunker to reengage Australian partners in anticipation of embracing a new life of solidarity. The gifts Palms bring are not only the Global Mission program but also Neighbours Without Borders program, built on 61 years of experience learning to live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with diverse cultures.
At each of the face-to-face meeting where I have offered these gifts I have received inspiring insights and a positive propositions to work closely together. A number of organisations have also contributed significant grants to help Palms Global Mission to be sustained across these still uncertain times. This will assist to keep our people embracing new life on assignment this Christmas and assist in the preparation of other qualified and experienced Australians seeking to do the same in 2023.