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Thursday, 29 October 2020 16:56

SVD 'excited' to take up new assignment on Palm Island


Bp Tim Harris on Palm Island 550The SVD is taking up a new missionary assignment in Townsville Diocese, with a particular focus on indigenous ministry, including on Palm Island.

Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, says the move comes at the request of Townsville Bishop Timothy Harris.

“One of the reasons why we decided to respond positively to his request is that we recognise the strength of the indigenous people on Palm Island and in Townsville and the complexity and the privilege of working with the First Peoples of this land, which is a priority for this Province,” he says.

“Another factor was that we will be working with the Holy Spirit Sisters (sister congregation to the SVD, also founded by St Arnold Janssen) who are already there on Palm Island.

“So we see it very much as a partnership with the Townsville Diocese and the Bishop, the Holy Spirit Sisters and the local people.”

Bishop Harris says he is delighted that the Divine Word Missionaries will soon be taking up ministry in Townsville Diocese.

“From my perspective, it’s a God-send,” he says.

“I put out feelers to them and we began a conversation and these men have said ‘yes’ to my invitation and I’m very thankful indeed.

Rass with SSpS Sisters on Palm Island 550“The indigenous ministry is an important ministry in the Diocese and they have excellent experience in this area.”

Three SVD confreres will head north to Townsville once the state borders are open – Fr Manh Le, Fr Joseph Reddy and Deacon Clement Baffoe.

Fr Manh will be based on Palm Island, while Fr Joseph and Deacon Clement will care for another parish in Townsville.

“What inspires me about these men is that they are truly missionaries. They don’t come to change us, they come to see the people they’ve been invited to serve and they act out of that seeing. There is a great openness to listen and to minister accordingly," Bishop Harris says.

“They want to be with the people, whether on Palm Island or the mainland, to preach God’s word and to be companions on the journey.”

Fr Manh Le has been a missionary in the Amazon and has worked with indigenous people before, so he comes well-qualified, Bishop Harris says.

Fr Manh, who has most recently been one of the  Vietnamese Chaplains in the Archdiocese of Sydney, says he is looking forward to getting to Queensland and taking up his new assignment.

Palm Island Township 550“I am definitely looking forward to it. It is another move, another step in my missionary life,” he says. “And this type of assignment is really at the heart of mission.”

Fr Manh says the Aboriginal history on Palm Island is rich and complex.

“There are 44 languages and tribal groups on the island, although English is the main language used. So the people may speak broken English and I speak broken English in a Vietnamese accent,” he laughs.

“I see it very much as a situation of ‘come and see’, I will be coming and seeing and listening and learning.

“I’m really looking forward to it and to working with and learning from our Sisters who are there.”

Deacon Clement, who is approaching his priestly ordination, says he was very excited to receive the call from Fr Rass asking if he was willing to work in Townsville.

“Since that call, I have been preparing myself psychologically and spiritually for the mission. It is my earnest desire to learn from the people and discover God with the people,” he says.

“I am hopeful that the same God who is already present among the people in Townsville will journey with me. When you say a prayer, say one for me.”

Church on Palm Island 550Fr Joseph, currently Assistant Priest at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish at Macquarie Fields in the Wollongong Diocese, says he is excited about his new missionary assignment following a long Zoom chat with Bishop Harris and the Diocesan team, during which they conveyed “how they are eagerly waiting to receive us - Divine Word Missionaries”.

“We are hopeful that the ministries we are involved in Townsville will enable us to spread the Word and bring people closer to each other and to God,” Fr Joseph says.

Fr Rass says the SVD is looking forward to getting to know and serve the people of Townsville Diocese and there is a particular delight at working together with the Holy Spirit Sisters on Palm Island.

“The elders on Palm Island are very excited and appreciative that the Catholic Church has never forgotten them over the years,” he says.

“We won’t be starting from scratch. We’ll be working closely with the Holy Spirit Sisters, but also building on the great work of others who have ministered there with love and devotion, such as the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sisters, Sisters of Our Lady Help of Christians, Missionaries of God’s Love, teachers, community of elders and others.

“It will be challenging, and that’s the reason why we’re saying yes.

“We will learn and listen and remove our shoes and pay respects to the Divine Word that was there before anyone arrived.

“We’ve got a lot of learning to do, but we’re absolutely excited to be part of the Church of the Diocese of Townsville.”


TOP RIGHT: Bishop Timothy Harris with Palm Island locals during a recent visit (Photo: Diocese of Townsville)

MIDDLE LEFT: Sr Claire Cooke SSpS, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD and Sr Mere Ranuku SSpS on Palm Island. 

MIDDLE RIGHT: Palm Island township (Photo: Diocese of Townsville)

BOTTOM LEFT: The church on Palm Island.