A call to action on behalf of all who seek shelter, in a world which itself faces new and urgent threats, has come from Katrina Fabish rsm, Congregation Leader of Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand.
The focus on ‘shelter for all’ has been captured in a poster that bears the Maori inscription ‘Te Whakaruruhau mo nga iwi katoa’. There is no Maori word for homelessness, since in theory no Maori is without a turangawaewae, a place called home. But talk of ‘shelter for all’ highlights the issue of housing which isadequate, affordable and secure as a matter of right for all people.
Her appeal is outlined in a 13 July letter sent to all leaders and board chairpersons of Mercy’s ministries, inviting them to raise a collective voice in this Year of Mercy on behalf of all who seek shelter. The theme of shelter has emerged as a key topic from groups meeting throughout New Zealand as part of a worldwide Year of Mercy reflection process initiated by the Mercy International Association.
Tuesday 20 September has been earmarked for a pilgrimage to Parliament, preceded by a letter-writing campaign to Members of Parliament. “There is power in numbers and our hope is to have every adult, child, staff member, client, volunteer, friend, board member, parent and family member associated with any of our ministries sign or write a letter into our petition books,” wrote Sister Katrina.
“Pictures and stories of people living on the street, families living in cars, inadequate and poor housing, rising costs of rentals and homes and at-risk elderly bring before us the stark reality of how many within our reach are living.
“I believe that many of us will know of someone who is struggling in this way. The corporal work of mercy, ‘for I was homeless and you gave me shelter’ is as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ time.”
Logo designed by Anna Nicholls rsm
The letter notes that Sisters of Mercy, in New Zealand since 1850, have addressed this work of mercy in myriad ways and continue to do so. “Today we wish to bring before the Government and all political parties our collective concerns, and witness to Mercy as one who stands with those on the margins, calling for justice and mercy for those most marginalised by structures which exclude them.”
The proposal from Sister Katrina is that letters written over the next few weeks will be presented to Members of Parliament in Wellington as a public witness. “It would be wonderful to have representatives of your organisation come to Wellington if that is possible. We do hope that students from Mercy colleges will be able to witness to Mercy’s call for ‘shelter for all’ on the steps of Parliament.”
September is traditionally kept as Mercy Month, and ceremonies on the theme of 'Shelter for All' are expected to be held in most of Mercy’s healthcare, education and community development ministries
during this month. As well as signing letters to MPs, groups within Mercy ministries will be encouraged to collect food and bedding to share with needy families.
Letters to MPs will include some relating to the climate-change crisis faced by small Pacific communities, such as in Kiribati and Tuvalu, where rising sea levels and salinization of soil are threatening their homes and livelihoods. Sisters of Mercy New Zealand are keen advocate for their Pacific neighbours and to contribute to this dialogue as the cry of the Earth is raised in this new and urgent way.
Compiled by Dennis Horton, Mercy Ministries mission team