A Response to the Parish Priest

21 June 2004

Dear Gerry,

I am writing in response to your open letter in the bulletin. I felt the need to respond both, as a member of the Community of St Vincent’s Church, Redfern and, also as a Religious sister who has worked for the church for many years as a teacher and in Social Justice. I have been involved in different ministries – Teaching, A Shelter for Homeless Men, Women’s refugee, Forbes St House in Redfern, lived with the people of Wilcannia and more.

I feel that in some of your comments you do not really understand the stance to be with the “made poor” wherever that may be. You talk of the ‘desirability of an austere church’. This is not our desire. This misses the point altogether. I asked many of the parishioners at mass on Sunday did they find the church depressing. No one did. We love the church. Who are the ones who find the church depressing? The church at Redfern tells the story of what being a Christian is all about. After all Jesus was born in a stable.

Putting carpets and having a ‘dignified’ environment is ostentatious when there are people living in poverty around you. I look at the space where the meal is provided two days a week and see how thoughtfully that wonderful group of people have prepared the tables and surrounds. Frederick Ozanam commented simply: "One thing is lacking – works of charity. LET US GO TO THE POOR. " I remember hearing the words of a saint who said that before we preach the gospel we need to practice the spirit of the word by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger etc.

The “made” poor, disposed and disempowered are not after a ‘dignified’ environment. They have their own dignity. They look for presence, listening, respect, sharing, belonging and friendship.

Of course, the church looked in better condition 20yrs ago. You and I probably looked in better condition 20yrs ago too. There was simple straw matting on the floor.

You speak of being appointed Parish Priest. I thought that the neo-catechumens had to be invited by the parish. There are parishes which have not welcomed this movement and have been able to say so. We, unfortunately have not that right given to us. I am wondering who the local people are who you serve as the Congregation seems to consist of the community of people who have called St Vincent’s their place of worship for many years and the other neo- catechumens who have come to Redfern since your arrival.

Last week the readings spoke beautifully about the people of God and yet your statement “if you wish to continue to be part of St Vincent’s Parish you must co-operate with me and Fr. Dennis and others of the parish” seems very dogmatic and almost threatening. I take offence at the wording “so-called Community” in your letter. We are all people of good –will and strong faith. We have continued standing with the Aboriginal people of Redfern and all the people who have come to worship at this Church -this sacred place. You and your group have been here such a short time and you make fun of this “so called Community” In Justice I hope that this letter will be printed in the Bulletin as your letter was.

Yours sincerely

Sr. Sheila Quonoey

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