Friday 6 August 2021

Beyond Confinement

Light at the end of the cloisters

There is no doubt a prevailing sense of confinement and constraint at the present time, one which intensifies as the days of lockdown pass into weeks and the weeks turn into the emerging prospect of months. It is the corollary of the COVID context – necessarily so. The restrictions are all too real: stringent limitations for those who live in the eight LGAs in southwestern Sydney (from which we have 71 staff and a number of families), the inability to move more than 10 kms from home under any non-regulated pretext, the reduction of the workplace and the school to designated rooms in the house, and the vitality of exercise and recreation reduced to numbers and conditions thought inconceivable a year or two ago.

This is the reality of the COVID world, one which is rewriting our understanding of the human condition in the early 21st Century, one where humanity is rendered vulnerable by a microbe which is beyond our capacity to control at this moment in time. And with it, there can sometimes be an overwhelming sense of powerlessness: powerlessness to impact on the transmission of the disease in Sydney, powerlessness to change domestic routines and the restrictions associated with community living, powerlessness to give our families the joyful freedoms they are used to, let alone being able to affect the big picture of vaccination rates and systemic disadvantage in our community and our world.

Power lies in the strength of a positive psychology and the capacity to act. This is why we must be agents of hope and optimism for those around us. I continue to hear the concerns of bureaucrats and institutions that can be the purveyors of gloom – it is something that we cannot afford. Our children deserve sunshine in their world, which can be difficult to spot amid the clouds. While I lament the silence of the school grounds and the daily routines that have replaced the vitality of community life with a sterile office and a screen, I look around at the contextual difficulties that afflict our community and a world that is lurching from one crisis to the next. This is about gratitude for what we – in relative terms – have available to us, gratitude for a future which will emerge in the weeks and the months ahead, and a deep regard for the difference that we can and must make at this place and time.

From within the College very deliberate efforts are being made, even in the current environment, to go beyond the constraints of confinement. Last weekend, 130 boys from Years 7 to 10 took their own action and participated in the Canice’s Kitchen Backyard Winter Sleepout. They bunkered down in backyards, tents, and cars on Saturday night, raising funds to support Canice’s Kitchen as part of their Ignatian service commitment. The Kitchen serves 50,000 meals a year to Sydney’s poor and homeless and is currently under great stress to service the needs of those who are without shelter and so very vulnerable. The 300 volunteers who work at the centre do so with great compassion and resolve to make a difference. They are deeply appreciative of any support, particularly funds, that will enable them to extend the reach of their important service at this time.

Each week we have 10 boys who sign up to make 20 brekkie packs, which results in 200 packs per week being distributed to areas of most acute need in our city. Last week, when Ms Adele Dalton, Faith in Service Coordinator at Riverview, spoke to St Vincent de Paul, she was informed that parents in and around Lewisham were selling furniture to buy food for their children. In a city which boasts one third of the GDP of Australia, this is a very sad and all too confronting reality of the distress that some families are feeling. The packs have provided much-needed relief to families whose sense of desperation is palpable. Similarly, bags of groceries (pictured left) are being prepared and delivered to Redfern Jarjum College, which supports First Nations children who have struggled in mainstream schools and who are in equally desperate need of support. For those who are interested in supporting the increasing demands placed upon the agencies which respond to these needs, please email Adele Dalton. Deepest thanks are extended to the families who are rallying to the call, not only for their generosity but for the spirit of kindness and compassion when depositing packs during COVID-safe drop offs on the College grounds.

We come to the end of week 4 of the term in lockdown and week 6 since Greater Sydney went inwards by virtue of government decree. These are times of constraint and confinement, but they have their own relativities, according to geographical area and socio-economic context. No matter what our own circumstance, let us embrace that Ignatian principle of being “for and with others”, and in so doing, let us go beyond the constraints to respond, where possible, to those who are in need of our compassion, support and assistance at this time.

Dr Paul Hine