Our Lady of Fatima parish Peakhurst have dug deep to help struggling farmers, with a $10,000 donation to an innovative pilot program of the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese, which covers the worst drought-affected areas in the state.
Mary Anne Gordon said the gift is a huge boost to her ministry of presence which operates “on the smell of an oily rag”.
The lay rural pastoral worker travels the length and breadth of the geographically vast diocese to form a connection between isolated Catholics and their nearest parish.
Wilcannia-Forbes takes in Parkes, Deniliquin, Bourke and Broken Hill, and while the people “definitely appreciate” Mary Anne’s visits most don’t want a hand-out, she says.
“What this money will allow me to do, though, is to find those people who are really in need and give them cash cards for their groceries or whatever, and especially for the women little packs of hand cream or something like that as women don’t tend to buy things for themselves when money is tight.”
The Peakhurst parish raised the money through its Lending a Hand committee.
Committee member Paul Napier said that the parish allocates 10 percent of the second collection at Masses for worthy causes each year in addition to special fundraising events.
“We started to realise how serious this situation is, and we want the people out there to know that there are people in Sydney who really care,” he said.
“We want to see them back on their feet and not let the big corporates come in and take over their farms.”
Parish priest Fr Chris Ryan MGL said that the Lending a Handing program is a “fantastic lay-led initiative”.
“Through the Lending a Hand team, Our Lady of Fatima Parish has supported many communities in need, of which the drought-stricken communities of Wilcannia-Forbes are the latest,” he said.
“I am particularly impressed by the way Lending a Hand builds relationship and not just financial support.
“It is a ministry which is practical, Gospel-based and makes a difference”.
Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green said he was delighted to receive the donation.
“We’d love to have more Mary Annes but we can’t fund them ourselves without help,” he said.
“What she does is bring the presence of God to his people.
“She’s actually on the ground, bringing the consolations of the faith to people and she’s very effective because she’s one of them and speaks the same language and has the same problems.
“That’s a really valuable thing, because a lot of the people who come to assist people in need in rural and remote areas are not from there.”
He said that the farming families he visits are very resilient and are used to enduring through tough times.
“They’re struggling, but they’ve struggled before,” he said.
“It’s those moments when the endurance fails and they don’t have the community support, no one coming out to talk to them, that’s when you get the problems of self-harm and depression come in.
“Strong social support and the consolations of the faith make a big difference, and that’s where Mary Anne is a tremendous help.
“In terms of practical things, a cash card to go and buy groceries or something they want, for themselves or their kids, goes a long way.
“They find that very helpful for support, but often what makes a big difference is simply a visit and a cup of tea.”
Recently Mary Anne and her work was featured in the ABC TV program, Compass.
For information on the Wilcannia Forbes lay rural worker program and details of how to donate email [email protected]