Launch of the book: ‘Cana Communities, Celebrating 40 years’.
The following is from a speech by Margaret Cannane, Leader of the Lismore Presentation Sisters.
The Lismore Presentation Sisters have been associated with Cana for the last 29 years, since Anne joined de Porres Community in 1986. Our Sisters have given support to this ministry, first and foremost in the person of Anne, and also by some of our sisters volunteering over the years and with ongoing financial assistance.
I have been invited today to launch the book, “Cana Communities: Celebrating 40 Years”. I was interested to read in this book about the history and growth of Cana which could only have happened because of the passion and courage of the leaders of this Community and the generosity of the volunteers. But the personal stories of Cana people are really what touched me and so I will be sharing some of those stories with you today.
Cana was named after the Gospel story of the Wedding Feast of Cana. We all know weddings are about love, relationships, celebration and sometimes drama, all characteristics of Cana! This gospel story tells of a miracle being performed by Jesus, who was present at this wedding. Of significance to Cana is that little ‘miracles’ happen for people at Cana, too.
This is Tuki’s story which tells of the miracle that happened for her.
“The day I arrived at Nagle House, I had just been released from jail yet again. And like always, my attitude was not at all positive. My way of thinking was not much better either. I could not even crack a smile. Let’s just say I had typical ‘jail bird’ mentality! So much so that for my first week at Nagle House I lacked interest and wanted to go back to the only place I thought was home: Jail!
Because I have spent the majority of my life in an institution of some sort, in my mind I believed that I would never fit into this world outside. But after the first week, things began to change. There were people at Nagle House who listened, but most importantly, they genuinely cared for me.
I started to see things in myself which I had never seen before. I started to feel freedom, like I had never felt before. For the first time in my life, I started to live. This is not my end; I feel this is my beginning. “
I thank Tuki for sharing this very personal story and rejoice with her in being able to transform her life.
Nagle House, a safe house for women, was named after Nano Nagle, the Foundress of the Presentation Sisters. She was a woman who came from a well- off family in Ireland but was drawn by the poverty and oppression of people in Cork, to doing something to bring about change for these people. She set up schools to educate the children from the streets to give them a better chance in life. Like Nano, Cana has set up Cana Farm to provide education and community for those people seeking employment but haven’t had sufficient training.
In the Chapter on Cana Farm, Julie tells us:
“Cana’s partnership with Western Sydney TAFE outreach has allowed Cana to introduce education for over 800 students and to support them in their learning in varied fields. Many of these students have gone on further to more structured learning; others have gone on to part-time or full time work.”
Nano patterned her life on Jesus whose life was broken and shared so that all could have life. She was a woman of passion and love. Her compassion was strong as she reached out to people, accepted them without judgement, treated them with respect, and loved them with all her heart.
Celina Gavia , who volunteers one day a week at Cana, describes what it means for her to be a compassionate, non-judgemental volunteer and what she learns and receives from those whose journey she shares.
‘From these beautiful people I have learnt about life and the struggles that each person experiences in life. They have also taught me to journey with them in a compassionate, loving, generous and understanding way while being sensitive to their needs, treating them with respect. We never stop learning something about ourselves and others. We can only learn this when we journey with people and are touched by their stories.’
Terry Ratcliffe, another volunteer at Cana, speaks of the values he has learnt from Cana and how his life has changed as a result of this.
‘Through Cana I learnt the real values in life. How rich you are with the simple things. Most importantly, I learnt that God is in the lowly, simple places. That God is in the streets and back alleys, in the dirty and cold recesses of our big city. That there is richness here not found in well-to-do-places.
Through my experiences with Cana, I am now enjoying life in a way I never would without it. I have never been happier with so much less. I hope to teach my children these simple ideas- for it is much easier to find God there.’
Terry goes on to tell the story of a time he was feeling really devastated and angry when he found that someone had stolen his bike.
“I was going along Oxford Street to catch the bus home when I bumped into one of the community guys for whom I had made dentures. He was drinking beer and, when I told him what had happened, he offered me the bottle. I drank the lot. His gesture deeply affected me. Here he was – no money in hand, only a bottle of beer – suddenly seeming to really understand me. I felt a deep love for this man.”
Terry met God in the man in Oxford Street who shared all he had, his bottle of beer. This man had been cared for by Terry and now was giving in return in a loving, caring way because of what he had experienced at Cana.
The last story I want to share with you is Emma’s story.
Emma is 19 years old and had been homeless for three years. At 16, Emma was ‘kicked out of home’ and regularly attended Teresa House in Redfern where she was able to get a community meal and stay overnight, thanks to Cana.
Emma felt the stigma attached to being homeless:
“All the looks you get from all the people just staring at you when you walk past because you carry your suitcase everywhere – everything- and people know you are homeless.
It’s hard not to worry about what other people think because you wear the same clothes every day and you get judged. Being a youth on the street is harder than being an adult because people influence you so easily.”
Then Emma joined Nagle House.
“Last Tuesday Sister Anne gave me a bed. I thought to myself, ‘Who the hell are you, giving me a bed? I don’t know even know you’. I was reluctant because people on the streets take advantage of you. But she gives you hope that the world is not so nasty.”
Emma describes the first night she slept at Nagle House.
“It was like I won the lottery. I was jumping on the bed. Knowing you can wake up whenever. Knowing you can have that shower. The water was amazing, washing off the dirt, putting pyjamas on, the pillows were soft and like cloud nine. I woke up at 10am the next day. The food was mouth watering. It was good to wake up and realize that I didn’t have to go through the bin for food; they have the food on the table.
To me Cana means family, happiness and support. It gives me hope that one day I’m gonna have my own place and I’m gonna help those kids.”
Emma gives us an insight into the stigma attached to being homeless and of being scared and not able to trust anyone on the streets. Having a soft bed, clean clothes, water, and food on the table can be taken for granted by many of us but not by Emma. What joy she found in them. This is a call for me to be grateful for and enjoy what I have. Emma had to learn to trust again with the support of Cana people and now looks forward to a bright new future with the hope of reaching out to those other kids on the streets.
There are many more stories like this one in Cana’s book, stories that tell of those who in their struggles found people who welcomed them, journeyed with them and offered healing and hope of a different life. There are stories of celebrations and relationships, of hospitality and forgiveness and transformed lives. There are also stories of volunteers’ lives being changed by those with whom they journey.
As well as the stories in the book, there are other stories on Tumblr and Facebook. You can add your story today or later if you like.
I invite you to read these stories, one at a time, giving yourself time to reflect on each one to let them touch you, to discover what feelings they evoke in you and what challenges they present to you.
Congratulations and thank you to Cana Communities on the contribution you have made to people’s lives over forty years and thank you for the production of your book, ‘Cana Communities, Celebrating 40 Years’. It gives us much to ponder on.
I now officially launch this book and also the Tumblr and Facebook stories.
I invite you to visit the Cana website at cana.org.au to see more photos and read news from Cana Communities. You can also buy a copy of the this book.
Margaret Cannane, Leader of the Lismore Presentation Sisters.