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Oceania Lay Partnership Conference

19/07/2010: Australia

From 4-7 July, 35 Lay Marists representing a cross section of Marist activities and enterprises in Oceania, gathered in Brisbane for the Oceania Lay Partnership Conference. The participants were from the Provinces of Melbourne, New Zealand and Sydney and the District of Melanesia and the proceedings were guided by the Chair of the Oceania Partnership Commission, Alan Parker, Director of Champagnat Partnership in New Zealand.

Two representatives of the Extended Bureau of the Laity within the General Administration – Tony Clarke from the Marist Ministries Office (Sydney) and Ana Sarrate, a primary teacher from the Brothers School in Pamplona (Spain) also attended as part of their roles in the Bureau. Commencing in September, Tony and Ana, together with Br Javier Espinosa, have been appointed co-Directors of the Bureau.

It was originally planned that the conference would be held in 2009 but was postponed due to the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus in the region at that time.

The Conference is part of a suite of regional activities where participants from the four Administrative Units are coming together over the next few months to discern the way forward for Brothers and Lay Marists in the period leading up to the concurrent Chapters of the Provinces to be held at Sydney in December. Already the Regional Assembly has been held in May and other Assemblies of a Province or District nature are being planned.

The Marist region of Oceania is unique in many ways especially in geography and number of countries represented. Geographically it is widespread (there is over 3000 km between the two Marist communities at either extremity of the region, Perth and Kiribati. It would take eight hours of flying time to go between them. It is when the participants from each of the Administrative Units sit down together under their national flags that one realises the cultural richness and diversity in the group and the need to respect the histories and traditions of the members. In the conference room there were 15 flags representing the countries and cultural traditions in the Administrative Units in Oceania where the Marists have schools or missions. Can you name the 15 flags? (See overleaf for answer).

The Conference was opened by Br Julian Casey (Provincial of Melbourne) representing the College of Major Superiors (the three Provincials and the District Leader) who would be acting as an observer. He focused on four questions:
• How do Lay Marists see their mission?
• How do Lay Marists see their commitment to a Marist life and mission?
• How are we to describe the spirituality of the Lay Marist?
• What are Lay Marists actually looking for?

To answer these questions, participants shared their stories and ministries representing all aspects of Marist life and mission as well as their personal vision of the Champagnat charism. Through this process, they gained a sense of what ‘Marist’ means to them, how they engage with Marist spirituality now and how they see it operating in the future.

The document, Gathered Around the Same Table: The Vocation of Champagnat’s Marist Laity, was the source of inspiration for the Conference.

Several participants had previously attended Marist formation experiences including the International Mission Assembly at Mendes (Brazil), the Joint Formation Experience at St Paul Trois Chateaux (France), and the General Chapter at the General House (Rome) and the Sydney Province’s Joint Formation Experience at Mittagong (Australia). They reported that these had been profound formation experiences and their stories enriched the conversations at this Conference.

The major outcomes of the conference were gathered together under the heading of Future Dreaming. Participants workshopped their responses under seven themes: Vocation, Mission, Sustaining the Charism, Formation, Shared Living (Community), Co-responsibility, and Diversity. The development of definitions and principles for these themes and establishing a set of desired actions for each was one of the major tasks of the Conference. These will be reported more fully in other publications.

Marie Dorrington, an educator from Adelaide with a Marist background, facilitated the proceedings and skilfully guided the participants to a consensus of the outcomes.

In summing up the Conference Br Julian said in his observations that the Conference will be a significant contribution to Marist life in Oceania and would be an encouragement for the participants to continue the discernment and dialogue when they returned home and across the region. Participants and the people who share the journey in taking the charism forward would be affirmed by this conference, he said.

It was a happy co-incidence that the Conference concluded on the celebration of the Solomon Islands Independence Day and also the Feast of Blessed To Rot, the PNG Martyr – important Oceania connections

[Aboriginal Australia, Australia, Bougainville, Cambodia, East Timor, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia (France), New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Torres Strait Islands, Vanuatu.]

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