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Gift of inclusion for people with disabilities prioritised


Guests were surprised by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe and Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey, who remained after the Christmas Carols to socialise. Pictured here: Maria Hill (centre) and Sr Dolores Coffee (right) were delighted to spend time with Perth’s Archbishop and Emeritus Archbishop. Photo: Marco Ceccarelli

By Marco Ceccarelli

It was not surprising to see curious passers-by lured to the entrance of the Cathedral’s St Francis Xavier Church on 7 December, as Christmas melodies coming from the building resounded throughout East Perth’s Windsor Street.

Inside the beautiful church, more than 150 members, staff and friends of the Archdiocese of Perth’s LifeLink-funded Emmanuel Centre joined a band of volunteers in singing Christmas carols dedicated to one of Christianity’s most important and significant feasts.

As the band caught its breath, a number of brief speeches were given, two of which were delivered by special guests Archbishop Timothy Costelloe and Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey.

The Archbishop and Emeritus Archbishop pleasantly surprised the attendees before warmly wishing everyone a merry Christmas. In very few words, they also drew attention to the remarkable leadership shown by Emmanuel Centre Coordinator Barbara Harris and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Chaplain Father Paul Pitzen.

Long-standing member of the Emmanuel Centre and Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, Mary Ballantine, also addressed those present, highlighting Emmanuel Centre’s progress in helping people with disabilities and their families over the past year.


Emmanuel Centre Coordinator Barbara Harris (centre) prepares to cut the Emmanuel Centre Birthday Cake surrounded by members, friends and family of a remarkable organisation that supports people with disabilities. Photo: Marco Ceccarelli

Aside from praising the general day-to-day support that Emmanuel Centre gives to individuals, Mrs Ballantine focused on the Centre’s unique self-help model and its ability to help parishes, agencies and communities build inclusive environments for people with disabilities.

Her speech also drew attention to the challenges faced by the organisation. “While we’ve seen amazing improvements, there are still many parents with children who have mental health issues who struggle. We must remain focused on helping them and advocating on their behalf,” she said.

Coordinator Barbara Harris also reviewed some the year’s achievements, paying particular attention to the Emmanuel Centre’s involvement in the Synod on the Family, its hosting of diocesan seminarians and visitors from Japan, as well as its ability to offer scholarships for mental health First Aid for parishioners.

Referring to these scholarships, Mrs Harris emphatically thanked the beneficiary who has thus far made the initiative possible.

“For four years, we’ve offered scholarships for mental health first aid with the aim of giving at least one, if not two, members in each parish the basic understanding of mental health and first aid. We now have 70 people trained in 35 parishes and are very grateful to the donor who supports this initiative,” she said.

At the conclusion of the event, the assembly was led in a sign-singing experience of Silent Night by Emma Chevron, who is profoundly deaf, with the help of her daughter, Laurah.


A band plays some of the more popular religious Christmas Carols within St Francis Xavier Church at the Emmanuel Centre Christmas Party 2015. Photo: Marco Ceccarelli

Without any music or voice, the assembly used only their hands to experience a new way of praying.

The guests then moved to the courtyard of the centre to enjoy an abundant lunch, socialise with fellow members and enjoy a cake together in the name of fun, festive season merriment and inclusion.

LifeLink agencies collectively touch the lives of more than 34,000 people in need each year through the provision of accommodation, food, clothing, financial assistance with electricity and gas accounts, and the protection of women and children escaping domestic violence and abuse.

In this year’s Christmas LifeLink Appeal, the Archbishop is setting a target of $700,000 so as to help fund agencies in being able to meet the needs of those who knock on the doors of Archdiocesan agencies.

The 2015 LifeLink Christmas Appeal was officially launched in parishes on 14 and 15 November.

To donate to LifeLink, go to

For more information on the Emmanuel Centre, contact Barbara Harris on 08 9328 8113, email, write to 25 Windsor Street, Perth WA 6000, or check out its website