Three Sydney priests have swapped clericals for camouflage to join the 3,000 Australian Defence Force reservists providing support to firefighters and communities in the grip of the bushfire crisis.
Father Kene Onwukwe, assistant pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Mosman, and Father Andrew Feng, parish administrator of St. Christopher Parish, Holsworthy, are chaplains with the army reserve currently working full time alongside soldiers supporting exhausted firefighters in the bushfire relief efforts.
Both joined the reserves as part-time chaplains in February 2018 and, since Jan. 7, have formed part of the historic deployment. Along with Franciscan Father Francis Ghanem, parish priest of St. Joseph, Edgecliff, and St. Francis of Assisi, Paddington, they signed up for a full-time deployment to help firefighters and communities battling the fires and their immediate aftermath.
They’ve been pitching in to help mend fences, clear roads and set up campsites, but most of all their role is providing a “ministry of presence,” said Father Onwukwe.
“We lead a daily prayer service, talk to them, pray with them and for them and visit families who have been affected by these bushfires,” said Father Onwukwe, who has been providing pastoral support to the Rural Fire Service, soldiers and military officers and their families as well as the local communities in southeastern New South Wales state.
Father Onwukwe also shares in the daily routine of his unit, which currently includes sleeping in a public high school gym by night and pitching in to clear roads, mend fences or whatever else needs doing to help the communities gain access to the damaged areas and make the first steps to recovery.
“However, mine is primarily a ministry of presence, to provide encouragement and support,” Father Onwukwe said. “What has stood out for me is the amount of appreciation for us from the local community members, those who have been most affected.”
Read on. And please keep them in your prayers.