Spirit flourishes in the bush

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Accompanied by Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green, above, Sisters of the new Carmelite convent cross the main street in Mathoura. PHOTO: Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes

Women flocking to ‘joy-filled’ convent in country NSW

Not long after the Carmelite sisters arrived in the drought affected central west, so did the much-needed rain.

Both Catholics and non-Catholics alike have embraced the arrival of the contemplative order to the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes and can only attribute the apparent “miracles” to some form of divine intervention.

And it’s not just the so-called acts of God that have been welcomed to the Diocese, but also vocations to the Order.

Since their arrival two years ago, three women have entered the Carmelite Monastery of Jesus, Mary and Joseph bringing their number to seven, and now need to extend their modest five-bedroom farmhouse to cater for young women wanting to enter.

According to the Order, if they had more room they wouldn’t have too much trouble filling it. At a time when the Census reveals a marked decline in Christian belief and with millennials addicted to connecting with each other via technology, it shouldn’t be that young women are choosing to embark on a life secure from the outside world.

Their chapel, below, is the setting for daily prayer for the Diocese, its people, the Church and the world. Their new convent, below at right, is situated in a typical Australian outback pastoral setting. PHOTO: Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes

And yet despite being strictly enclosed behind walls and grills, many young women are desiring a monastic life which they see as a greater freedom to love God and serve their neighbour.

The occasional glimpses of the Sisters in their traditional habits and sandals in procession praying around their property has become part of the local landscape. And they’ve been humbled by the support received from the faithful of Wilcannia-Forbes, who have welcomed them with open arms.

“we are receiving many vocation inquiries and are putting a lot of effort right now into making plans to hopefully build a small Chapel and monastery”

“We have experienced first-hand the generosity and love of so many kind people from the area, it’s a great joy for us to see and hear of all the wonderful regrowth happening in this diocese, and to participate in that mission through our prayers,” the Sisters said.

“There have been many challenges associated with our early days here – such as the shock for our American Sisters in their daily encounter with our outback flies! But we cherish our location here because it gives us peaceful separation from the world, awareness of the marvels of God’s creation, and a joyful solidarity with all those good souls who live in regional and remote Australia.

“We were quite a small group on arrival and now there are seven of us, and we are receiving many vocation inquiries and are putting a lot of effort right now into making plans to hopefully build a small Chapel and monastery. Our planned monastery would probably house around 16 sisters eventually, although we would build it in gradual stages as more space is needed.”

The fledgling community of Carmelites is confidently planning for growth. PHOTO: Diocese of Wilcannia Forbes

Farmer Amanda Barlow, whose property borders the convent on three sides, said people of the Diocese gained immediate comfort knowing they are being prayed for. She said since their arrival, conditions in the area had certainly improved in many ways and people were actually bucking the trend and moving into the town to be close to them.

One thing that has struck her about the Sisters is just how happy and full of joy they are to be in their new environment. “If I am delivering something to the Convent and they are outdoors I can hear them laughing and chatting, despite living such a simple but hard life, they are just so happy,” she said.

DESPITE LIVING SUCH A SIMPLE BUT HARD LIFE, THEY ARE JUST SO HAPPY” – AMANDA BARLOW, NEIGHBOUR

“It’s hard to explain, but they really have become part of the community so very quickly, we can feel their prayers and know they really do feel the pain of the farmers. 2019 was a very tough year due to the drought, but pretty soon after the Sisters arrived so did the rain. They have shown us such a generosity of spirit and touched the lives of so many people … and we in return are very, very grateful.

“2020 actually was pretty good for us on the land but once again we are in need of rain so hopefully they can again work their magic.”

The Sisters live a life of strict enclosure, solitude, prayer and sacrifice for the Church and the world. They practice all the traditional and recognisable aspects of monastic life including wearing the full habit, mental prayer, fasting, abstinence (the nuns observe a meatless diet), enclosure behind walls, austerity, personal and communal pursuit of virtue and union with God.

“Knowing that they are here and praying for us, brings me so much comfort and peace”, says Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green. PHOTO: Diocese of Wilcannia Forbes

Bishop Columba Macbeth Green said quite simply “knowing that they are here and praying for us, brings me so much comfort and peace”.

“The main reason we want them is that contemplative religious are the powerhouse of any diocese, in their prayer and their witness,” he said. “They are the heart of the Church. Because ours is a rural and remote Diocese, the nuns are a great source of consolation for clergy and our people.”

All are welcome to send prayer intentions to the Carmel at PO Box 150 Mathoura NSW 2710.

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