By Roger O’Halloran. Feature image: Meeting of FPA (Friends and Partners of Australia) and Palms in Atabae, Timor Leste, August 2023.
In the process of considering Expressions of Interest for an Executive Director to replace me I had cause to search for a link to Fr. Anthony Gittins CSSp PhD. In doing so I was saddened to discover I had missed his passing on May 15th when I was on leave. He had been in Australia as recently as September to address the 2022 National Catholic Education Conference (NCEC).
When he was in Australia in 1997 I had the opportunity to sit at his feet with just eight others, who at the time were considering PALMS direction. The notes I made have never been far from my side. The current expression in Palms Vision of “reaching beyond” has its genesis in those discussions.
Gittins explained how in attempting to make sense of the world, cultures tend to perpetuate the lie that they alone provide the God’s eye view of reality. He suggested that rather than try to control or own revelation, the role of religion is to help us to encounter other traditions and faiths who also have part of the story of revelation. This is underlined in his address to the NCEC: “… the (old) idea that outside the church there is no salvation is poppycock … as acknowledged by Vatican II.”
Gittins elucidation of “the disturbing ministry of Jesus” that night in 1997 has been refined in many publications and presentations since. His idea of “mission as a counter-cultural activity” that contests the lie of cultures and religions who claim to have all the answers, remains fundamental to the preparation of Palms program participants. It is primarily about assisting participants to identify the barriers their own cultural beliefs have put in the way of them effectively reaching beyond.
For Gittins the importance of reaching beyond is to engage in dialogue and so fully appreciate that:
“God’s revelation is at work throughout the cosmos. And, because the cosmos is expanding, revelation is limitless.”
Our mission in this context allows one to:
- accept that we not only have something to offer the world, but also can be liberated from the limited view of the world our culture provides; and
- remain culturally humble knowing that we are part of something so much bigger and can never know it all.
This approach to mission intersects with Palms development philosophy. It is clear that the approach to development in “developed” countries is destroying the planet. This is not what we wish our program participants to export to host communities. Rather we want them to learn from the strengths of existing practice there, while sharing processes and ideas that assist to reduce poverty and enhance sustainability.
Mission in Australia
A pause to intercultural mission globally during COVID assisted Palms to reflect that our magnificent experience in living our model of mission and development abroad is also germane in Australian communities. One organisation recently expressed interest in engaging Palms prepared mentors in remote and regional communities. As well, Neighbours Without Borders is being identified as having real potential to nourish a dialogue in richly diverse urban Australian neighbourhoods. Both are opportunities to work with and utilise the strengths of those now marginalised to build healthier interpersonal respect and rewarding community engagement for us all.
Importantly too, adding extra strings to Palms bow, provides potential to be more visible in a wider range of Australian communities and thus more viable. Also, training NWB community facilitators, and supporting mentors for assignments in remote Australia are lower cost activities yet come with spillover benefits for the global mission program. A new Executive Director provides the opportunity for one with alternative experience and a fresh approach to make this necessary cost helpful pivot, while engaging existing networks and new partners in a greater realisation of Palms Vision.