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Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

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Marist presence in Thursday Island



Four administrative units coming together in an Oceania Region project

26/06/2009: Australia

Imagine an Island that would probably fit comfortably between Mt Eden Road and Royal Oak (Auckland NZ)or perhaps fit neatly onto Cornwall Park or Bluff Hill (Auckland NZ)! That would be about the size of Thursday Island. They say you can walk around the island in about an hour. If there is no helicopter available, one reaches Thursday Island by a 2 hour plane trip from Cairns to Horn Island, followed by a 15 minute ferry trip. In contrast to the rather barren and un-interesting Horn Island, Thursday Island is an attractive little island with hills, interesting vegetation, well sealed roads with gutters and most of its houses suggest a degree of first world comfort.

Our brothers are in the building which has been home to communities of Mercy Sisters and Patrician Brothers over many decades. The Catholic Education Office in Cairns has renovated the house to the standard of that of the lay teachers they are providing for. They are comfortably set up.

Brian Tanguan from Papua New Guinea had difficulty getting a work visa and arrived on the same day that I went there. Brian is community and project leader. Laurie Toohey (Melbourne) is presently the home-making brother. Tim Beencke (Sydney) is assistant principal at the nearby Catholic primary school and he is responsible for religious education there. Our Damien Shutt has been teaching a group in the local public school at a time when members of other churches go in to take their children for religious education.

Damien has been supporting Fr Tom Mullins. Tom describes the coming of the brothers as “a refreshing easterly breeze that has swept through the parish!” The Island is 10° south so the image carries its own cool message!

Thursday Island is part of Australia and the administrative centre for the Torres Strait Islands. Over a long period of time there has been considerable intermarriage of the islanders with pearl divers who came in from Pacific countries and such places as Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia. They say there are 3,500 people on TI and most are of mixed ethnic origin and others -- “outsiders” -- seem to be government contract workers.

For the present, the community members are hoping to reach the local community through the school and Tim’s involvement there. They plan to find ways to reach out to the youth on the island and are also to train the local community to take responsibility for the Church on the islands -- the parish includes several other Torres Strait Islands together with a community on Cape York which is about 40 km away.

This development is an historic one in many ways with representatives of four administrative units coming together in this Oceania Region project. It follows the many years of regional team involvement in the formation area. It could well flow on to other similar projects.

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