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Pope honours local four

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Papal award recipients James Yeo, left, Giuseppina Romeo, Joanne Russell and John Flynn join Bishop Richard Umbers at the presentation ceremony. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Decades of service honoured through Papal awards

Four dedicated Sydney-siders have received distinguished Papal awards, honouring decades of service to the Catholic community across fields as diverse as pastoral lending to the disadvantaged, outreach to migrants and refugees, ecumenism and interfaith relations.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers presented the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal to John Flynn, Joanne Russell, James Yeo and Giuseppina Romeo in a ceremony at St Mary’s Cathedral’s Chapter Hall on 1 April.

The medal, honouring services to the Church and the Pontiff, was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 and features an image of the great apostles, Saints Peter and Paul and is awarded to both laypeople and members of the clergy.

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In congratulating the recipients, Bishop Umbers reflected upon how Christ is at the centreof all forms of Christian service.

“You are all wonderful contributors to the Church and it’s ultimately God who has worked through you as instruments of the Holy Spirit, in you and through you in the distribution of these gifts and so when we give this recognition, we are first and foremost giving praise to God”, Bishop Umbers said.

A role model of voluntary service, John Flynn has been recognised through over two decades of service as a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Development Fund (CDF) in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

After a distinguished career at a senior level with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Mr Flynn has played a pivotal role in helping provide valuable support to Catholic dioceses and agencies through readily accessible loans.

Some of the recent support has included loans to the Diocese of Wilcannia Forbes in rural NSW, hit hard by crippling droughts and floods.

Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“I can remember very few loan applications that we haven’t been able to approve in one way or another. We’ve been able to provide support across the Catholic community to agencies so they don’t have to approach the commercial banks and we’re able to provide appropriate lending and also deposit facilities to them”, Mr Flynn explained.

You are all wonderful contributors to the Church and it’s ultimately God who has worked through you as instruments of the Holy Spirit.”
– Bishop Richard Umbers

St Anthony’s Clovelly parishioner, Mrs Joanne Russell, has also received the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, recognising four decades of service in a variety of areas including support for migrants and refugees, the pro-life movement and for those affected by blindness or poor vision.

In the mid 1990s, Mrs Russell felt motivated to get involved in support for refugees as she saw millions left displaced by a conflict in Europe at the time.

“When the Balkans War happened and there were all these refugees from the then Yugoslavia, I thought we should do something to support them and so I got a group started and we helped a few families access accommodation and so that’s how it started” she told The Catholic Weekly.

Mrs Russell soon became the President of the Eastern Suburbs Migrant and Refugee Committee under the Society of St Vincent De Paul, while also continuing her involvement in the local branch of Right to Life, volunteering with a Low Vision Group, at a women’s refuge and as a catechist in local schools.

Another dedicated parish volunteer, James Yeo from St Brigid’s in Marrickville, received the same papal medal for his work with Passionist organisations and ecumenical and interfaith groups in Sydney’s inner western suburbs.

After a distinguished career in the Federal Government’s Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr Yeo has volunteered for over two decades with the Passionist Family Group Movement, is a former local President of the Passionist Companions, a lay community formally committed to Passionist spirituality and volunteers as an archivist for the Passionist Fathers in Sydney.

Mr Yeo said he felt motivated to volunteer because of his immediate attraction to the Passionist charism as soon as he joined St Brigid’s parish.

“At your first Mass, you were immediately made to feel welcome and people would come up to you and introduce themselves. So that spirit of warm hospitality and sense of community is just an intrinsic part of the Passionist charism”, he said.

The papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for the Church and the Pontiff) was presented to all four recipients. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Mr Yeo’s local community work has also extended to volunteering as Treasurer of the Marrickville Interfaith Roundtable and Secretary of the Marrickville Ministers’ Fellowship where he has helped to facilitate local ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.

The Italian- Catholic community has benefited from decades of service from Miss Giuseppina Romeo, who has also been awarded a papal medal for her volunteer work with Italian migrants across Sydney, especially among the elderly and isolated.

“It’s a big honour, but I have always found the people I’ve supported have ended up helping me and enriched my life as well. I’m also very grateful to the Scalibrini Fathers who supported me in my work and whose charism is very much tied to supporting migrant families as they settle into Australia”, she said.


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