Spanning across the six weeks of Lent each year, Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion brings thousands of Australian schools, parishes and supporters together to raise funds for people living in some of the most vulnerable communities across the world. The year’s theme for this year’s Project Compassion is “For all Future Generations”.

On Tuesday 1 March, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli officially launched this year’s Project Compassion campaign at Mercy College in Coburg. The combined in-person and online event was attended by more than 40 schools online, with the annual launch event including a liturgy led by the Archbishop, reflective music from Genevieve Bryant and John Ighalo, and guest speaker Lulu Mitshabu (Coordinator of Caritas Australia’s Africa programs).

Lila McInerney, Principal of Mercy College, said it was a privilege for Mercy College to host the event on the eve of the Season of Lent. ‘I believe that education lies at the centre of this year’s theme, and through the power of knowledge and opportunity, helps put an end to vulnerability and poverty,’ Lila said.

We are committed to upholding dignity and hope for humanity and all of God’s creation, through our social justice initiatives and our existence as a Catholic school. As we participate in this launch and recognise the Season of Lent, let us be open to all the new possibilities before us and may we be God’s loving presence in the world.’
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Lila McInerney, Principal of Mercy College Coburg

Archbishop Comensoli unpacked the Gospel reading (John 13:12-20) and encouraged the students to take up the invitation to work for peace.

‘We’ve been watching on the news both the terrible floods happening in Lismore and Brisbane and also the war that has broken out in Ukraine.

‘Over all of that – both images of water and of war – we see the covenant that God established with Noah [in the Gospel], and therefore established with us. The people had fallen apart, they had deserted one another, they were warring with each other and with God, and God sends the flood. In the boat, we have Noah and his family, a family who have been able to stay together, and the whole of the living creation is present in that ark.

‘God said to Noah: Never again would I allow this to happen, and the sign of that is the rainbow. Long before its current use, the rainbow has been a sign of the covenant of God with his creation and a sign of peace. A covenant is a relationship that is enduring and it’s for the good of the other … and God has established that relationship with us.’

The Archbishop asked the students to reflect on what an enduring commitment for the good of others could look like.

What might we do such that we act in a way that brings about the good of all of creation? And act in such a way that brings about peace for all people?’

‘We certainly need both of those at this moment – right now – not in the future. Do good now, for the sake of now. Families, friends and people we don’t know up in Lismore and Brisbane are at this very moment being dragged out of their homes in boats to get to safety. People are in a war they don’t want and in need of a sense of peace that comes through justice. So right now, we can take up this call that God gave through the rainbow to Noah and to us – to work for the good of creation and to work for peace. That’s what Jesus did. He washed our feet, as we heard in the Gospel. And he says, “do this”.

Yes, you might be able to give some financial contribution [to Project Compassion] – that’d be great. But be women and men who want to be covenant people – for the good of all creation and for working for peace.’

The launch also included input from guest speaker Lulu Mitshabu, who has been working for Caritas Australia for 21 years and coordinates Caritas Australia’s Africa programs.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lulu migrated to Australia in 1991 after fleeing the DRC while her country was under a dictatorship. In the decades since, she has worked to help the most vulnerable people in the country of her birth, and has worked on advocacy, violence against women, community development programs, HIV/AIDS issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Rwanda, Zambia and in Mozambique.

Lulu shared the story of 12-year-old Anatercia from southern Mozambique, whose father passed away when she was young, leaving Anatercia and her sickly mother to support their family. Many families in Mozambique face food insecurity, due to natural disasters and the country’s internal conflicts. At a young age, Anatercia would have to walk up to 25km each day to collect water for her family.

We have run out of food several times,’ said Anatercia. ‘I help my family with the farm, cooking, fetching water and firewood, and caring for my mother. I also assist my grandfather in feeding, as he has difficulty in picking up utensils due to blindness.’

Thanks for support from Caritas Australia, and in partnership with local partner Caritas Regional Chowke, Anatercia and her family have been able to join the Integrated Rural Development Program, which provides them with a regular source of food, water, seeds for their crops and school supplies for Anatercia. Caritas also helped to lobby the local government to extend the school to sixth grade, so that Anatercia and other children could continue their education close to home.

Lulu thanked the students and staff gathered for their continued support of Project Compassion and reminded them that Project Compassion is not just about giving money, but ‘it is about empowering vulnerable people to become channels of love and positive change in their community.

Visit the Caritas Australia website to support the work of Project Compassion.