A new whole-of-Church initiative to help people and communities recover from the current bushfire crisis will set the blueprint for how the Catholic Church responds to domestic natural disasters in the future.
Earlier this month, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and a number of other national organisations encouraged Catholics to donate to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal, which is supporting people who have lost loved ones, homes, property and animals.
Those national organisations, representing parishes, religious orders, social service agencies, schools, hospitals and aged and community care providers, have spent several weeks working collaboratively in response to the deadly bushfire season – which is not yet over.
“Our response to the bushfires, and the drought that has exacerbated the fires, has demonstrated once again the collective power of the Catholic Church to respond to disasters in all sorts of ways,” Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
“At its core, the Catholic Church is about people, about families, about parishes, about school communities, about ministries that proclaim and live out the Gospel of Jesus. Most of those ministries are local, but there is a national – and universal – dimension of the Church that can sometimes be under-utilised.”
The new national collaboration is called CERA – Catholic Emergency Relief Australia – and will serve as a coordination point for Catholic agencies responding to natural disasters.
The founding organisations are the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission. Other Catholic organisations are expected to join the collaboration soon.
Ursula Stephens, the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, said organisations like CatholicCare, Centacare and Vinnies are embedded in local communities and are therefore trusted and able to deliver the right services.
“One of the Church’s key social teachings is about ‘subsidiarity’, which means that we empower local communities to respond to their realities as they best see fit,” she said.
“Alongside that, though, sits ‘solidarity’, which compels us to see the needs of others and work collaboratively to respond to those needs. That response can be most effective when it’s coordinated and focused.”
Dr Stephens said while the national Vinnies appeal continues to be a channel for people to support Catholic agencies responding to the bushfire crisis, CERA will also receive donations that will be distributed through a recovery grants application process managed by Catholic Social Services Australia.
“We are establishing the appropriate governance, accountability and transparency measures to ensure that those who see the Church as a key responder to national emergencies know financial and practical support is going to those who need it,” Dr Stephens said.
“CERA will allow us to help people on the long road to recovery from this ongoing bushfire crisis and to mobilise as soon as our country is struck by another natural disaster – mindful that it’s sadly a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
“This is ultimately about us being more responsive in a crisis. This is faith in action and a call to follow our Christian vocation.”