Oceania Province Formation Think Tank and Retreat

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From June 25 to July 4, we held two significant events in the Province of Oceania. We brought together confreres and experts to discuss formation, and this was followed by a province retreat. We gathered at Galong in western New South Wales, where we have a large property that is twenty-five kilometres from the nearest major town and our former juvenate and novitiate which is now a retreat and conference centre.

At the Formation Think Tank, we recognized the importance and urgency of reimagining and nurturing formation in our province, both initial formation in Kew, Melbourne, which now comprises ten nationalities in the community and also lifelong formation. Among the fifteen participants, who were mostly Redemptorists, there were also experts, including Dr Pina Ford (CEWA Catechist Service Team in Perth), Dr Tony Robinson (former director of Vitality and Encompasses) and David Marsh (Regenerative Farming in Boorowa, NSW). Dr David Leary OFM (psychologist) creatively facilitated the meeting using the process of the Plenary Council of Australia. We discussed topics such as personal maturity, trust, hospitality, faith-rootedness, the significance of our charism, the formation context, and the role of laity, among other concerns. These discussions will inform our future efforts to establish more missionary-oriented formation processes in our province through ongoing collaboration.

During the retreat, which lasted from June 28 to July 4, there were forty-seven of us, including students, priests, a brother, and two lay participants, and a very multi-cultural gathering with participants from thirteen different cultural backgrounds. The retreat director was Fr Kevin O’Neil, CSsR, and the theme of the retreat was “Miserando AtqueEligendo: Viewing Our Redemptorist Vocation Through the Lens of Mercy.” The Latin is the personal motto of Pope Francis, which is variously translated as focusing on mercy and choice.

Because of COVID, we have not been able to have a province retreat for four years, so it was well-attended. The themes of each day were: I am the Good Shepherd, Follow Me, Be Not Afraid, The Mercy of God, Not 7 Times but 70 Times 7, Missionaries of Hope in the Footsteps of the Redeemer, and Do You Love Me: Tend My Sheep. The conferences took place during morning prayer. The afternoon talks reinforced these themes and incorporated them into liturgical prayer, starting with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the celebration of Alphonsian spirituality, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, a prayer service with the sacrament of reconciliation, remembrance of our recently deceased Redemptorist Missionaries of Hope, and a Marian ceremony on the last day. Kevin offered insightful thoughts and deep personal experiences of life and God, which prompted us to further love our vocation and have the courage to continue to be missionaries of hope in a world that is increasingly secular, divided, and polarized.

At our final Eucharist, the confreres renewed their religious vows.

Galong offered us a lot of space, but there was also an opportunity to catch up with confreres whom we have never met, as in the case of many of the students, and for confreres from the east to the west of the continent to connect and share. Galong is 600 kilometres from Melbourne, 320 kilometres from Sydney, and over 3,000 kilometres from Perth if you go in a straight line, which is not possible.

May we continue to be enriched by such gatherings, and we are very grateful for Kevin’s generosity, insights and focus on Alphonsian themes in light of the messages of Pope Francis. We are also grateful to our Provincial, John Hodgson, and his team for managing the background work to assist us during these two important and insightful gatherings.

Redemptorist students with Kevin O’Neill and Sam Kono (Prefect of Students)

Sam Kono CSsR and Michael A. Kelly CSsR