ACU and Communications Office
With most Australian Catholic University (ACU) students and staff working off campus due to government restrictions, the Campus Ministry team is delivering a range of online initiatives to care for the pastoral needs and spiritual wellbeing of the ACU community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACU Melbourne Campus Chaplain, Fr Michael Kong said the team realised very early on that the university community would need support through the feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and isolation that the pandemic has brought to our communities.
“There were new challenges and new obstacles, but there were also new opportunities and new ways to reach people pastorally,” he says.
“It is strange to not have any face-to-face contact with students and staff at campus. However, we had been working on social media to connect with our students and staff before the pandemic. One of example is The Last Supper, a livestream session on Facebook where we’d have a live chat on different issues with students and share a weekly meal.
“However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we changed the content and its platform. Now, we meet on Zoom and the program is called Father’s Kitchen Rules.
“During the session, we cook together while having a chat over Zoom. This is a space where students can freely ask any question that they want to discuss.”
Going by the name PapaDon Preach on Facebook, Fr Michael shares the techniques behind his favourite dishes, as well as supporting students who might feel particularly isolated during the pandemic.
The ministry team was already using different platforms to reach different people, Fr Michael says. And so far, the virtual kitchen has been a successful one in creating connection – alongside appetizing dinners.
“Now the program is branching out not only for ACU Melbourne campus students but also for the wider community.
“My main target on social media is those who are not familiar with Catholic faith and culture. I may call my ministry at campus online as ‘pre-evangelisation.’ At the same time, we are offering some serious faith formation for students and staff who are willing to go deeper,” he says.
“My target is the people who do not know Jesus Christ, or even do not care about him. The aim is to get their attention and give them some opportunity to come and see.
“In general, there is a need for more innovative and creative ways of communication and evangelisation on the Internet platform, especially for the young adults,” he says.
According to Fr Michael, the topics discussed and the program itself was created with the consultation of students.
“Since the program was designed for and with students’ requests and preferences, and topics are ones they have expressed interest in, I consider the sessions successful.”
The action of campus ministry hasn’t been limited to the kitchen.
ACU Campus Ministry Associate (Students), Jake Santitto says: “We have moved all of our ministry online with different activities for students to get involved in each day, from learning to cook at Father’s Kitchen Rules to discussion groups on a range of topics including the Virtues, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as well as a group that just bring students to come together to share how they are going.
“We have also recently organised a weekly ‘Zoom Mass’ where students are able to come together and pray. This has also been a time where one on one pastoral calls have been so vital, being there to support students through an ever-changing time. I have mentioned on many occasions how I have been blown away by the resilience and selflessness of ACU students.”
ACU Melbourne Campus Pastoral Associate (Staff), Jeremy Ambrose says, “our main challenge was to try to build community amongst the staff working from home so that they would continue feeling connected. Amongst some of the new initiatives included, Meet My Books. What better way to get to know colleagues then asking them to talk about one of their favourite books? We also tried ACU Film Chat. Through our library’s online database, ACU staff have access to a wide range of great movies. We chose one film each week and encouraged all interested staff to watch it and then logon to join us for a discussion.
“Even if staff aren’t able to join us for these initiatives, I think they have still felt connected by knowing they are happening and catching up on some of the videos we post afterwards.
“We also launched a weekly online publication consisting of interviews with staff, reflections on some of the artworks located on campus and reflections via eyes of faith on some of the graces present through this unique time. The hope was to offer something community centred, upbuilding and reflective, perhaps a drop of faith in the ocean of everyday life.
“Based on my own interactions over the last two months I can see a time of strengthening for our ACU community, and both staff and students alike have sought to find ways they can support each other and contribute to the common good of all,” says Jeremy.