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Catholic Emergency Relief Australia established as a blueprint for disaster response

Heroes in action: Firefighters contain a bushfire along a highway near Ulladulla, NSW, on January 5. Photo: CNS/Dean Lewins, AAP via Reuters

AS communities recover from the current bushfire crisis, the Catholic Church is setting up a blueprint for how it will respond to future disasters in Australia.

It has set up a new collaboration called CERA – Catholic Emergency Relief Australia – to serve as a co-ordination point for Catholic agencies responding to fires, droughts, floods, cyclones and other disasters.

The unprecedented summer bushfires were the catalyst for Church-wide support efforts that included a number of national organisations and donations collected through the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal.

Those national organisations, represented parishes, religious orders, social service agencies, schools, hospitals and aged and community care providers.

 “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,” Australian Catholic 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 founding organisations of CERA 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.

Catholic Social Services Australia chief executive officer Ursula Stephens said organisations like CatholicCare, Centacare and Vinnies were embedded in local communities and were 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 co-ordinated and focused.”

Dr Stephens said while the national Vinnies appeal continued to be a channel for people to support Catholic agencies responding to the bushfire crisis, CERA would also receive donations that wiould 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 …”

A CERA website features a volunteer management portal that will allow organisations to list volunteer opportunities for people looking to provide practical, material and financial support for disaster recovery.

Archbishop Coleridge said Catholics continued to pray for an end to the current fires, for rain to quench drought-stricken lands, for those affected by the fires and for those on the front line of responding to the fires.

Dr Stephens said CERA’s focus would be on domestic disasters, noting that Caritas Australia was the Church’s agency tasked with responding to emergencies overseas.

Visit the CERA website at www.cera.catholic.org.au

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