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Wednesday, 29 June 2022 15:48

'It's an honour for me to seek Christ in this land'

Shehan Fernando SVD in Alice Springs 550SVD student, Shehan Fernando, says his pastoral experience in Central Australia has been a great learning experience in his training for life as a missionary, as he encounters Christ in the people and the land.

Shehan, who is Sri Lankan, and has been undertaking studies and formation at Melbourne’s Dorish Maru College, arrived in Santa Teresa in March, and will be based there until September when he moves on to Alice Springs.

“My first impression was that this is too hot! I’m not sure how I’m going to survive in this weather for a year,” he laughs.

But, it hasn’t taken him long to begin feeling at home in Santa Teresa, which is a predominantly indigenous community, about 80km from Alice Springs.

“One of the main challenges that I encountered was how to adapt to the Aboriginal culture and how to find my place here at Santa,” he says.

“Though I have been living here in Australia for the last eight y ears, coming to an Aboriginal community and embracing their culture seems an exciting as well as challenging experience overall.”

Shehan says once he started to get to know people, some of those challenges began to dissipate.

“As I got to know a few families here, I began to feel easy with the place and with the people,” he says.

Shehan Fernando at Uluru 550“Going to the school twice a week is the highlight. I really enjoy my time at the school with the children and the staff. I think it gives me a great avenue to entering into the lives of these people respectfully.

“At the beginning of the next school term, I have been asked to conduct the preparation classes for Confirmation students this year. I take this is such a privilege and honour to prepare our kids here to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit with open hearts.”

Shehan’s time in Central Australia was interrupted by the sudden death of his father in Sri Lanka, requiring him to fly home and be with his family for a few weeks.

When he returned, Shehan had the opportunity to visit some of the significant sites in Central Australia, such as Uluru and Coober Pedy in South Australia, on a road trip with Santa Teresa Parish Priest, Fr Elmer Ibarra SVD.

“Going to Uluru and Coober Pedy has been such a relaxing time and it really helped me to move back into mission with an open mind after encountering the unexpected death of my father,” he says.

“I’m really enjoying my time here in Central Australia, and praise God for the lives of the First Nations People of this country, past, present and future, respectfully.

“Overall, it’s been an honour for me to seek Christ in this land, in the lives of these people in our mission and encounter Christ re-crucified in the lives of the people.”

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In the spirit of reconciliation, the Society of the Divine Word, Australia Province, acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea, sky, and community.

We acknowledge their skin-groups, story-lines, traditions, religiosity and living cultures.

We pay respect to their elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all indigenous peoples of New Zealand, Thailand, and Myanmar.

We are committed to building with them, a brighter future together.