Ministry to migrants & refugees is 'holy ground' for Sr Rosa

“Rosa, take off your shoes; you are going to meet holy ground …” – it’s something Canossian Sister Rosa Vazzano tells herself almost every day, The Catholic Leader reports.

Each time, it helps prepare her to meet one of the many migrant and refugee families in Woodridge, south of Brisbane.

The 75-year-old cross-cultural pastoral worker in St Paul’s Parish is one the Church’s friends to refugees from many parts of the world working hard to forge a new life in Logan City.

Sr Rosa Vazzano FdCC (Photo:  Catholic Leader )

Sr Rosa Vazzano FdCC (Photo: Catholic Leader)

And, as she celebrates 50 years of religious life, she knows this is where God wants her to be. 

“This is where the Church is supposed to be very, very attentive in welcoming them (the migrants and refugees of Logan),” Sr Rosa said.

“No matter what faith they have, we welcome Jesus (in them) …

“I deal mainly with the Catholics because they’ve chosen this parish to be part of the Church, but I welcome and I work with anybody.

“I feel that I am very privileged in this service.

“Even if it’s a challenge, even when I get in the car (to go to visit a family), I have to ask where am I going.

“If I’m going to an African family, you prepare yourself in a way.

“If you have to go to another family from another culture, you get to know … maybe they are timid, they are withdrawn … 

“As Moses was approaching the burning bush, God said, ‘Take off your shoes, you are approaching holy ground …’ (cf Exodus 3:5)

“This is one of my attitudes when I go to somebody, ‘Rosa, take off your shoes; you are going to meet holy ground …’”

Sr Rosa said that was what she experienced among the people she met from all over the world – from parts of Africa – Burundi, Sierra Leone, North and South Sudan, Congo …  Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Syria and Iraq.

She knows, too, what it’s like to leave her family and her homeland and move to the other side of the world; she’s done it herself.

There’s a difference, though. It was her choice to leave, so she could answer a call from God to become a missionary.

A few years after joining the Canossian Sisters, the young Italian woman from Sicily was sent to Australia to work in a parish in Adelaide where there were many Italian migrants, arriving in 1980.

The move did not change the essential focus of her vocation – “as our foundress (St Magdalen of Canossa) said, to make Jesus known in whatever you do”.

“The goal of any of the activities that we do is to make Jesus known and make people love Him, with the awareness that they are greatly loved,” Sr Rosa said.

That was the heart of her pastoral work in Adelaide, then Darwin, back in Adelaide again, and in Ingham, North Queensland.

Sr Rosa returned to Italy for a few years for family reasons, and when her father Rosario died at 99 years of age, she came back to Australia – about eight years ago – and was assigned to St Paul’s, Woodridge, in Brisbane.

Dealing with so many people from so many different cultures, she has found that the first and most important thing was to “establish a human relationship with them”, to be empathetic and sympathetic, “and be present, be present”.

Sr Rosa said her eight years at St Paul’s had “changed me a lot”.

“I want to be where God wants me to be, but not in a selfish way, the way God wants,” she said. “At this moment, this is with the poor people.

“I know I don’t solve their problems but they know somebody cares. They can call when they want something and I am there.

“Do I solve their problems? No. I feel powerless. But I’m not powerless in loving them … and saying they’re important.

“And most of the time I put my hands on their head and say, ‘The Lord loves you. Lord, please, bless this beautiful lady and she needs to have Your strength to get through this struggle …’

“In the street, wherever I meet them, they know that I am there for them and I say, ‘Jesus is always there for us’.

“Human to human … Jesus to Jesus.” 

This article is an excerpt from a feature article written by Peter Bugden and published in The Catholic Leader. See the full article here.