In a spirit of anticipation and celebration, staff, friends and member representatives of Catholic Social Services Victoria recently gathered for the 2021 Commissioning Mass and annual general meeting. It has been more than 12 months since CSSV has hosted an ‘in-person’ event, given the onset of COVID-19 restrictions soon after the national Catholic social services conference held in Melbourne last February.

In addressing those gathered, CSSV executive director Joshua Lourensz expressed delight in seeing everyone ‘in more than two dimensions.’ He reiterated the importance of CSSV’s work and its members, which intensified during 2020 given the devastating and compounding impact of the pandemic on so many Victorians, many of whom were already vulnerable and disadvantaged.

‘Our work did not stop, and our three strategic priorities are still right on the money,’ he said. ‘Housing and homelessness, justice and equity and domestic violence. All of these things are really interconnected, with mental health also winding its way through these three areas.

‘Underpinning our work is maintaining and understanding what everyone is doing. We convened 42 meetings to get our work done over the course of last year, which brought together some 50 organisations again and again around different areas of work. That speaks to how we go about our work and why we have a chance at being effective.

‘For CSSV, we want to be seeing the systemic and structural changes that diminish the number of Victorians our agencies need to help and that’s something that we’re well placed to do as a collaborative body and it’s what we’ll continue to do in 2021.’
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In his homily during the Commissioning Mass, Bishop Shane Mackinlay of the Diocese of Sandhurst emphasised the importance of action and reaching out in tangible ways, which underpins the very nature of social services.

‘Jesus didn’t just speak about the Kingdom; he didn’t just speak about what is from above,’ said Bishop Mackinlay. ‘The much more powerful way in which he proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom was by his actions, the way in which he reached out and embraced others.

‘What we do in the nitty gritty of the work of the various services that are represented here today is not only inspired by the Gospel but is the work of the Gospel. It is at the heart of the work of the Gospel for all of us. We are called to continue to build up his Kingdom in the way that we stand and serve those around us.’

Of particular importance is how the Catholic Church responds to and assists in the prevention of domestic violence. In a closing reflection, Sr Nicole Rotaru rsm, a member of the CSSV Domestic Violence Working Group, explained how we are all affected directly or indirectly by violence.

‘Violence throughout Australia has been perpetuated for generations,’ she said. ‘Violence thrives in silence and when we remain silent, we are complicit in perpetuating violence.’

It is now five years since the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Recommendation 165 encourages faith communities to be proactive about educating their people around domestic violence. ‘Church leadership has an important and transformative role in the prevention of violence,’ said Sr Nicole.

‘We must call out and challenge recognised social enablers of violence against women; use opportunities to preach about the realities and impacts of family violence; and promote opportunities for the community to participate in forums and workshops that will empower members to be educated about family violence.

‘We must continue to confidently identify signs of abuse, refer to support networks, and to courageously call out abuse.

‘As a faith community, let us seize with heart and mind, this five-year moment to implement thoroughly, recommendation 165. Let us continue contributing to creating a culture in our society, where we can all be safe and flourish.’

‘Our faith teaches that all people are created in the image of God,’ said Sr Nicole. ‘We are all precious, we all have innate dignity, we are all equally loved, and we should all have the opportunity to develop our potential and to thrive. … Let us overturn the love of power, to the power of love.’