Walking with people on the margins is a central focus of the Divine Word Missionaries, and two young SVD students, from Argentina and Mexico, are spending two years of their formation in Australia to do just that, as part of the Overseas Training Program (OTP).
Arturo Manuel Barrios from Argentina and Simon Dominguez Prospero from Mexico, have arrived in the AUS Province to immerse themselves in pastoral life here, and both say their experiences so far have helped them to become better missionaries.
Arturo, (pictured above, centre) joined the SVD in 2007 and has completed six years of study and formation. He says he applied to come to the AUS Province as an OTP student because of its varied ministries.
“I was interested in the AUS Province because I saw that it was a big province and very multicultural, with very many different ministries,” he says.
Arturo will spend one year in Sydney, working with Cana Communities, and one year in Central Australia, working with indigenous communities.
Having arrived at the beginning of this year, Arturo says he is already enjoying his work with Cana Communities, an organisation in which volunteers live with and support people who have mental or physical illness or at risk, with nowhere to go.
He brings his previous experience as a mechanical tradesman to his work at Cana Communities.
“I do all kinds of volunteer work there,” he says. “At the moment, I’m doing painting and fixing the house, cleaning, preparing rooms for the guests and every Tuesday, I go the Cana farm and do some gardening, cut the grass and prepare the land for growing things.
“I help prepare the meals and I also join the guests for meals and for the celebration of Mass and I stay overnight several days a week.”
Arturo, who is in formation to be an SVD Brother, says the thing he values most about the experience is his interaction and friendship with the guests at Cana.
“The important times for me, are the sharing of a meal at table and staying with them, being part of their life, celebrating birthdays and that kind of thing. It’s also wonderful to have Mass with them. They like to pray.
“So even though many of them have trouble with mental health problems or drugs or alcohol addiction, I can see that they are human, like me, and that I can learn much from them. I can learn things like how to take care of others, how to pray with others and share what little we have with others.
“Even though our lives are so different in many ways, we have a connection, a communion and I am learning that even though we live in a world where we have a lot of material stuff, we can still live a simple life.”
Simon, (pictured here second from left), who was born and grew up in Veracruz State, Mexico, joined the SVD when he was 19 years old and has completed his three years study of philosophy as well as two years in the novitiate and two years of theology.
“I decided to apply for the OTP in the Australia Province because I wanted to have a different language experience in a multicultural country,” he says.
He had also heard of Australia’s refugee intake and he was keen to work with refugees.
Simon is based in Melbourne and does volunteer work at the Sisters of Charity’s Briar Terrace drop-in house, St Vincent’s Hospital and for CatholicCare’s refugee and asylum seeker ministry.
“Each of these experiences have been sacred places for me; sacred moments with sacred people who have had to keep silence and to listen to the God of silence who speaks,” he says.
“The people who come to Briar Terrace are often living alone and have had a sad life. My service is to give them coffee, tea or sometimes food when they come, and also I need to be very friendly and to talk with all of them.
“At St Vincent’s Hospital, my ministry consists of visiting sick people and talking with them, but mostly I listen to their stories. This ministry is really touching me a lot because I have contact with people and their human weakness, which is often difficult to understand.
With CatholicCare, Simon visits refugee families, accompanies them to their medical appointments, works with them in the garden or helps clean their houses. He also helps out with the food bank every Wednesday, together with some other volunteers to take products to each family.
“These three ministries are very important for my vocation, because each one is touching me, giving me a lot of pastoral experience and enriching my spiritual and personal life,” he says.
“In this time of my OTP experience in the AUS Province, God is opening my eyes to discover his presence in the people who are suffering. And God invites me now to help the disadvantaged people and improve their lives, through being a support for them, in trying to understand them and also by trying to put my feet in their shoes, because they are Christ’s in our world.
“The people in my ministry remind me of what Jesus said: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. (Mt 9:13).”
PHOTOS: Top Right, Arturo Barrios is pictured chatting with some guests at Cana Communities' Porres House.
Bottom left, Simon Prospero is pictured with former refugees: Miss Thu (now a dentist), Thai (now a doctor at St Vincent's Hospital) and Salar, former resident with the 2012 Janssen Spirituality Centre refugee program.