RSC Street Retreat July 2016Print
On Friday afternoon 1 July, 59 students and 10 staff gathered at St Vincent’s College for the annual Sisters of Charity Street Retreat.
The colleges represented were Mt Carmel Hobart, St Columba’s Essendon, All Saints Liverpool (because of the amalgamation of the girls and boys colleges we had three boys participating), Bethlehem Ashfield and St Vincent’s Potts Point.
The first night there were get to know you activities and games. Following a community meal there was a presentation by Catholic Earthcare Australia. Tess, the Youth Engagement Officer challenged us about our ideas and how we might try and make a difference for our world. The students retired to the boarding house which was to be their home away from home for the next few days.
The focus of our Street Retreat on Saturday was a pilgrimage. After prayer in the congregational chapel where we took inspiration from St Ignatius, the pilgrim, we set off.
On this pilgrimage the participants gained more understanding of Sydney and the Sisters’ connection to the city. Maria, a history teacher from St Vincent’s College shared many interesting and wonderful snippets about Sydney. We were able to appreciate the conditions of Sydney that the early Sisters would have encountered. That evening we attended Mass at St Canice’s, had a pizza night and watched the movie The Way.
On the Sunday, focus was community and we hosted a Buddies Day – a work of Vinnies. It is for children from needy backgrounds. There were games, art activities, morning tea, a BBQ lunch and treasure hunt. All the activities and food preparation were undertaken by the students.
On Sunday night we had our $10 meal challenge. Students and staff were divided into groups with a different food type or area to visit.
My allocation was Newtown. We had a lot of trouble settling on a place to eat and ended up with food from two places and thus were unable to sit in either place. I suggested we head back to the station in the hope of finding some seats… we did with the bonus of live music to entertain us. We commented that our meal setting was like that of many homeless people sitting around sharing food, company and conversation. The group agreed it was a good night and gave them a sense of the conditions poor people face.
On Monday and Tuesday we had different community experiences. We visited and worked in such places as Arrupe Place (run by Jesuit Refugee Services ) where we helped prepare for and work at their bazaar. St Joseph’s Village was a hit with both the students and residents. There were lots of talk, games and some singing. One student discovered that she came from the same town as one of the residents- a great connection was made. What joy it bought both!
At Rough Edges (St John’s Anglican Church Darlinghurst) and the Wayside Chapel the students came in contact with homeless people and those suffering mental health and drug addictions. There was also the opportunity to cook for St Canice’s Soup Kitchen for the needy and to visit and distribute the muffins, lasagne and brownies. The students heard the stories from the people in these places and gained an understanding of the conditions which cause these situations. It gave a greater sense to the students that the dignity of the person is the most precious possession of an individual and that the value of the person comes not from what a person ‘has’.
One particular experience which touched students’ hearts was a visit to a women’s shelter, where they went to do the gardening. They went back the next day to plant a herb garden but also with the determination to make the backyard a more pleasant place for the children and women.
They felt they had little to give them joy or hope. After collecting supplies the students set up a sand pit for the children, a sitting area for families to gather and brightened up the place with signs, fairy lights and decorations.
The last night of the Street Retreat featured a “sleeping rough night.” Firstly there were some great reflections of the past days – the challenges, the confronting things, how they had handled similar situations themselves and what they might do to make a difference to peoples’ lives in the future.
Having connected with poor and homeless over the previous days the students and staff in solidarity with these people took to the verandah areas of the Tarmons building of the college with cardboard, sleeping bags and whatever else they thought was in the spirit of the night. The ground was cold, hard and uncomfortable but that is how some people must live.
We know that for some students the retreat was challenging, but the general feeling was one of thankfulness for their lives and a desire to try to be more active in helping those in need which is the true spirit of Mary Aikenhead.
One highlight for the students was the MAGiS circle where the students shared their joys and struggles of the day and were able to depth experiences with others.
The students really liked the interaction between the colleges and often keep in contact after the retreat.
A few days after the retreat finished I met some Street Retreat students going to World Youth Day and they told me they were sorry the retreat was over because they had enjoyed it so much and would love to do it again. One student from Bethlehem thought the same and did the retreat last year and again this year!
Main image: Photo by Natthakit Khamso on Unsplash