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Passion for social justice gains ecumenical power

NETWORKING and ecumenism are energising people in Brisbane’s western suburbs with a passion for social justice.

Holy Family Parish at Indooroopilly once had a vibrant social justice group but its president, Valerie Whitehead, suggested it would become more effective if it became ecumenical.

About three years ago she wrote to other parishes and congregations of all denominations in the area, inviting them to join an ecumenical group.

The outcome was the Ecumenical Social Justice Group – Western Suburbs (ESJGWS).

The group decided the way ahead was to network with other groups and spread the load.

Now it has about 60 members from 25 congregations – mainly Catholic, but also Baptist, Anglican and Uniting Church.

The group has been active in addressing injustices in several areas, including those affecting Aboriginal groups, refugees and East Timor.

It focuses on practical initiatives but is also involved in raising awareness on social justice issues and lobbying governments.

Its work has included providing household goods and furniture to families on Temporary Protection Visas coming to Brisbane through the Romero Community Centre at Buranda, helping an Afghani refugee family resettle, raising $3500 for the Uniting Church’s East Timor Scholarship Fund, and supporting the Uniting Church at Manly in raising $12,000 in a week to pay the fares of a family in a refugee camp in Egypt who had been granted humanitarian visas.

Some members also write letters to people in Australia’s migration detention centres.

The group has lobbied the Federal Government over refugee policy and the state about its handling of the issue of compensating Aboriginal people for ‘stolen’ wages.

Secretary Karin Chai, of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kenmore, said the key was that different parishes and individuals became involved in different aspects of the group’s overall effort.

She said that once people were informed and made aware of a need or issue, many were pleased to become involved.

The group maintains support by constantly sending out flyers and having items in parish bulletins.

‘Little by little we get more support,’ Ms Chai said.

News of the group’s success is spreading.

‘We always get people inquiring, ‘I want to set up a social justice group. What do we do?’ So we send out a lot of information,’ Ms Chai said.

Another indicator that the group is having an effect is that the State Government has invited it to be represented at a community Cabinet meeting on February 2.

Ms Whitehead said: ‘We’re thrilled to bits, because it means we’re being recognised.’

The gumnut decorations project leading up to Christmas was particularly pleasing, not just because it raised $3500 for the East Timor Scholarship Fund, but because it involved a wide cross-section of the community – young and old, several parishes and denominations, schoolchildren and parents.

The group meets on the second Monday of each month at 7.30pm in the Taringa Baptist Church.

Its first fundraiser for the year will be on February 15 at Holy Family Church hall in Ward St, Indooroopilly at 7.30pm.

For more information about the group go to www.esjgws.org.au or phone Valerie Whitehead on (07) 3378 3424 or Karin Chai (07) 3374 2821.

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