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KI parishioner puts theology into practice


Separated by land and sea from the nearest university, Kangaroo Island parishioner Paul Bennett is far from isolated as he undertakes full time studies in theology and liturgy.

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Paul is studying a Master of Theological Studies through the Australian Catholic University and is also in his third year of the Adelaide Archdiocese’s Ministry Formation Program.

“Studying remotely means I have this vast library on my computer,” the 72 year old said of his studies with the ACU, which he describes as “a gem of an organisation”.

Similarly, he is full of praise for the MFP and its pioneering use of Zoom which enables him and other students from remote areas in the State to feel as if they are in the classroom.

Paul was recently awarded the ACU Centre for Liturgy Postgraduate Scholarship and is hoping to use it to look at the Church’s liturgical rituals and traditions for the care of people facing serious illness.

He and his wife Wendy are active members of the “small but strong” community at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Kingscote.

As well as being a reader and commentator, Paul visits the elderly and sick in hospital and is involved in prayer groups and other parish projects.

Wendy visits patients suffering from dementia in aged care and Paul said for those people without family nearby she was often the only person who talked to them.

“Her ministry is about talking to as many people as she can…and they are responding, they are coming alive and are more present,” he said.

And the couple don’t minister solely to Catholics, Paul insisting that “our focus is what Jesus wanted, to include everyone”.

Paul said that liturgy was closely connected to pastoral support and that his lecturers all stressed the importance of “living theology”.

His interest in liturgy, which is “just a posh Greek word meaning a public service”, began early in his life as a child in Manchester, UK.

Attending Mass in Latin, he found it “both profound and beautiful” as it was often sung.

“Today I’m very aware that the Church teaches that Jesus is really present in the community gathered for Mass, in the prayers and songs of the people, in the proclamation of the Word, in the person of the priest and in the consecrated bread and wine,” he said.

“Jesus is the most powerful being anyone could ever meet, so anyone wanting to meet Jesus couldn’t do better than attend Mass. Wherever Catholics offer Mass as a community, we do so for the benefit of everybody on the planet.”

Before marrying, Paul spent two years in the seminary and then worked as a public servant, teacher, and natural therapist while continuing to live a prayerful life. Now that he is retired, he said he had more time to devote to his faith and the parish.

His studies this year focus on the sacraments and sacramentality which, he said, was “all about how Jesus communicates his being to people” and how he can be experienced through symbols sacraments, such as the Eucharist.

Paul and Wendy moved to Kangaroo Island 15 years ago. Paul said the whole island, not just the Catholic community, was very resilient and supportive because “we get things done by supporting one another”.

“Our Catholic community is small but vibrant and very supportive. We are magnificently supported by Fr Anthoni Adimai and his staff of priests from the Adelaide Cathedral parish who selflessly travel five hours there and back by land and sea to celebrate Mass with us every Sunday,” he said.

Now in his third year of the MFP, he said the program provided him with “the wealth of Catholic spiritual tradition, expert spiritual direction and assistance to develop myself fully as a human being”.

“Above all, they offer friendship,” he said, adding that fellow parishioner Helen Mumford is also in the program.

“The whole experience is exciting and fulfilling and they offer something for everyone. I don’t yet know how I will be deployed but I am determined to be useful. I want to live as long as possible because life is just so interesting, and I always want to know what will happen next.”

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