Following a chance meeting in the local post office, Willunga resident Margie Morris has reached out to a group of workers from Vanuatu who have been in the McLaren Vale area since December picking strawberries.
Ms Morris, who lived in Vanuatu for just over three years as part of the Australian Volunteer Program and speaks the local Bislama language, invited the workers to worship with local parishioners.
In extending a hand of friendship and welcome, Ms Morris has been regularly visiting the Islanders at their accommodation and accompanying them to the 5.30pm Mass on Saturday at Mary of Galilee Church, Aldinga Beach.
The Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme bring thousands of people from overseas to Australia to fill critical shortages of seasonal agriculture workers. In March it was announced that 1200 workers would arrive in South Australia to take up fruit picking jobs in the Riverland and many others undertake seasonal work at other locations around the State.
Overwhelmingly Pacific Islanders are Christian, however for those who come to Australia to work it is often difficult to worship at a local church due to their rosters and language barriers.
Valerie and her husband Peter are two who have welcomed the invitation to attend church and are grateful to Ms Morris and the Willunga parish for their support.
“Practising our faith is very important for us,” said Peter. “When I have many things in my head, many worries and concerns, I go to church and receive God’s blessing and this helps me deal with my problems and makes me feel better.”
Valerie said the Willunga parish had provided them with food and food vouchers which had helped them to improve their diet.
“All the parishioners have welcomed us, shown us love, they all talk to us and we unite together,” she said.
“We now have many friends. They show us much love and respect. The people at church are now like my family.”
Ms Morris said in what was a sheer coincidence, Vanuatu was the country featured in this year’s World Prayer Day. She spoke at the ecumenical service held at McLaren Vale and people were asking what they could do to support the seasonal workers in the area.
“I think there is an enormous opportunity for parishes to seek out where all these seasonal workers are and go and let them know where the churches are because they are not going to find them, they are too shy,” she said.
“This has also been good for me because it has reminded me how important community is and the community here has been so welcoming. They have gone out of their way.
“It seems to have brought a level of joy to the parish.”
She urged other parishes in the Archdiocese to reach out to seasonal workers in their areas as it made a real difference to their lives.
“Part of our role as Christians is to help others in our faith to be able to practise their faith … and the impact on them is breathtaking.
“Talking to them it really hurts them if they don’t have that connection with their faith because it gives them ‘something’.
“They don’t have their community, they don’t have their family, their food, their way of life – but the one thing we do have is lots of churches here.”Jump to next article