by Dr. Robbie Lloyd
For Catholics concerned about social justice, community mental health & wellbeing, as well as healing the church’s rift with many of its communities, it is a natural step to explore the full gamut of reconciling the church’s history with First Nations people. Not only have Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders been at the forefront of institutional abuse, Stolen Generations and denial of their Language, Beliefs and Culture for 250 years. They have also been robbed of their natural role as the custodians of this place, which those who followed have inherited thanks to their millenia of sustainable care and nurture. It is time for things to be rebalanced and for the church to listen to what the First People have to say. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is one major move towards this process, and so is engaging on the journey to developing a Reconciliation Action Plan.
The Justice and Peace Office is coordinating exploratory discussions to begin a process for the Sydney Archdiocese to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to cover the whole region. Such a proposal requires what Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, 2021 Senior Australian of the Year and a leading Catholic elder among Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders and all Australians, calls Deep Listening: “Dadirri: Sit, Wait & Listen to the Spirit in Country.” This needs to happen at the local level where people live, in each parish and school community, fitting with Catholic Social Teaching of prioritising Subsidiarity, and honouring Aboriginal people’s relationship with and responsibility foreach Place.
This project will build on a lot of good work already undertaken by many parishes, schools and Catholic organisations. It will initiate a shared deep listening to Aboriginal History, Culture, Country and Spirit, and a shared Truth Telling about past and current injustices that can help to begin healing wounds across generations. The work will also embrace the Plenary Council’s purpose, and the ACBC’s Social Justice Statement on Mental Health, which is a key need in healing the trauma brought upon generations of First Australians.
In immediate practical political terms, the church can help to challenge the travesty of the current need to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility, which sees young people as little as ten years of age arrested and locked up, most of them Aboriginal. And there is outstanding work still needed on
Closing the Gap in Education and Health, acting on the 30 year old recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and sundry other social justice issues.
The RAP will aim to help to provide firm foundations for future generations of Australian Catholics to live in harmony with First Peoples and the Spirit of this Place. It partners will include Aboriginal Elders of the Traditional Owners of the lands & waters covered by the Archdiocese, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM), the Justice and Peace Office, and Archdiocese headquarters agencies partnering with Sydney Catholic Schools.
A wide range of fields of activity will be explored in this exercise in listening to the Traditional Owners, including Liturgy & Worship, Signage & Symbols, engaging & celebrating First Peoples in each place, Social Justice responses to the outstanding issues listed above, and connecting young people & elders in shared acknowledgement of the original custodians and their ongoing role in protecting all species and spirit of places. If you would like to find out more about the Working Group overseeing this process, please contact the JPO.