Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Harvey Catholic Church, whose leader Father Jess Navarra and his team, build their health and vitality through initiatives such as this.

Read the conversation below.

NCLS: What do you think has contributed to your parish being healthy and vibrant?

JN: In 2016 when we celebrated, after Pope Francis called for the Year of Mercy.  This parish, under Father Bernard then, initiated first on a smaller scale, what we call Monday Dinner.  So every Monday in our parish hall here, they had a dinner being served to everybody from the town. It’s not only the church people, or it’s not only the Catholic parishioners, but everyone in this town. 

So mainly, it was the whole idea of the Year of Mercy, so we sought to seek out the poor, the deprived, the marginalised of the town and so they started that 2016 Monday Dinner.  And with that it generated a lot of volunteers and people who were willing to be part of that.  They were able to secure the Second Bites programme from the Coles supermarkets in the neighbouring towns. 

It’s a big task, because Monday, Wednesday and Friday we had volunteers taking turn to pick up the Second Bites from the two Coles supermarkets in the city, which is Bunbury.  They’re around 25 minutes from here.  There are volunteers for picking up the Second Bites on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then there are also volunteers for sorting out things that could be used and then, by Monday, there are volunteers on a roster basis to do the cooking. 

Monday morning at ten o’clock we could see people here, different groups according to the roster.  They come, they start to prepare, they’re cooking from ten o’clock and then by 5:30, six o’clock on Monday evening everyone walking, leading towards the church for the Monday Dinner.  Well, people give donations but that’s not the point, it’s always everyone is welcome. 

NCLS: So, who comes to that dinner? 

JN: We have our marginalised people, we’ve got lonely people on their own, because this becomes their social interaction.  We have lots of elderly people in Harvey from the nursing home nearby.  Some of them, we picked up and this becomes their dinner, good dinner and this is their social interactions. 

With that then, it attracted a lot of attention, not only from this town, but from the whole of the south west.  It’s been featured several times in the newspaper, in the Western Australian paper.  The Alcoa company, which is the big industry here in the south west, also gave some grants because they could see the impact.

NCLS: The rationale?

JN: The rationale behind.  Yes, so behind this.  There are lots of civic organisations and government agencies now commending this initiative of the parish and we’re still receiving a lot of recognition in terms of the way this operating in the parish.  And we have been nominated for Australia Day for to receive an award, so we are looking forward to that this January.

NCLS: Congratulations.

JN: So this is now the fourth year since 2016.  When I took over here in January, I continued this programme because I do believe that this is one of the strengths of the parish.  The strength of the parish really is the main driving force to transform this parish into what we call more effective in terms of our evangelisation and spreading the good news. 

The strength of the parish not only drives us to perform, but I think the strength of the parish transforms us to be a real witness of kindness and goodness in the whole town of Harvey and neighbouring areas.  For some people are driving from the neighbouring areas to join us for this Monday Dinner. 

We cater for between 100 to 150 people every Monday.  With that, because of that I am always here every Monday and I’m always part of the whole operation.  Sometimes I pick up the Second Bites. 

One good thing that came out of this was people who in the past just attend the Monday Dinner eventually became part of the operation and they had that sense of ownership.  I was able to encourage some of those men who had been coming on their own, some of them are lonely, some of them have no family, and some of them, this is the best way for them to interact. 

Some of these men, became part of the roster for pick up and they’re very excited because I team up with one of the guys here, he would be in his early 60s.  He lives on his own and I notice even his way of conversation, he really embraced it as his own now.  Father, what we do now?  He kept saying, ours, ours. I can see that they embrace this as they are a part of it, and they have the sense of ownership.

Also, this year, we have some volunteers from the Church of Christ and we also have volunteers from the Mormons, either doing the cooking or doing the washing.  There is a different group doing the cooking, different group doing the washing and tidying up the hall.  We have some of our local business here and local office staff of the government, the Shire of Harvey.  They are on the roster.  They have people working in IGA, the chemist people and the Harvey Beef, the Harvey Fresh, they are part of the roster.  And sometimes we get donations meat from Harvey Beef and Harvey Fresh, they always supply us with the dairy products we need.

Then we have the local school, the Catholic school, Saint Anne’s.  The teachers are on the roster.  There’s Harvey Primary State School, the teachers are on the roster and then we have the young students from the Catholic school we call the Young Vinnies.  They are part of welcoming and serving during the dinner.

The Monday evening, the whole town is just fully alive because you can see people walking in the same direction.  They walk to church.

NCLS: I can picture it.

JN: And this is, as Fr Bernard said, this is not to encourage to convert people, it’s just a way of bringing the people together in the town. That’s one of the successes here. 

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