THE 2006 SOCIAL JUSTICE STATEMENT
The Heart of Our CountryDignity and justice for our Indigenous sisters and brothers
The Message Stick
We are first reminded of the Pass It On Message Stick Relay and its call to the Church.
We are told that the Message Sticks carry an invitation to all of us to celebrate the message of hope and reconciliation in our local communities. They also carry with them the call to reflect on the message delivered by Pope John Paul II and to evaluate the extent to which we have responded to that message over the past 20 years.
The Pope’s Message
Pope John Paul II identified four very important issues when he spoke to the Aboriginal people in Blatherskite Park at Alice Springs:
He challenged all Australians to ensure the preservation of Indigenous cultures and to keep working for an inclusive multicultural Australia.
He called us to seek and explore the points of agreement between Indigenous traditions and those of Jesus and all his people.
He praised the way the Indigenous peoples had cared for the land and then challenged us to learn together how to preserve our fragile environment.
Finally, by naming past hurts and continuing injustices, John Paul II confronted us as a nation with the need to move towards true reconciliation.
The statement asks us what has been done over the past twenty years to respond to the Pope’s challenges and what is still to be done.
Maintaining Indigenous Culture
The Pope urged the Church to be encouraging and supportive of efforts by Indigenous people to maintain those elements of their culture, spirituality and history which they wished to retain and remember.
It acknowledges some efforts to help Indigenous people to do this, including two-way learning programmes in the Kimberleys and efforts in other parts of Australia to teach Indigenous languages.
The statement points out that non-Indigenous Australians can learn from Indigenous culture too. It particularly mentions what benefits might be gained through the capacity of Indigenous people for a deep, inner listening.
Dialogue of Cultures
The statement also reminds us of the Pope’s desire that Indigenous culture and spirituality be respected, embraced and welcomed by the Church in the same way that it has tried to support and welcome migrant cultures.
In this regard, it highlights the efforts of Nungalinya College to bring Christian and Indigenous spiritualities into dialogue and challenges us to find ways to be more inclusive of Indigenous culture and spirituality in our own faith communities.
Caring for the Land
The Pope also recognized the intimate relationship which Indigenous people have with the land – a relationship which is far more than functional. Caring for the land is much more than ensuring that people’s welfare is protected. The relationship between Indigenous people and the land has an immense spiritual significance in that it says something about the relationship between human beings and God.
The statement acknowledges that the recognition in law of land rights has been the most significant shift in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia.
While the process and the outcomes have been imperfect, the Bishops say the rights this shift has given to Indigenous people should never be taken away.
The statement also recognizes that the intimacy of the relationship between human beings and the rest of Creation is something emphasized in the Christian tradition, but this understanding has been lost. The statement says that the spirituality of Indigenous people has much to offer in efforts to recover the importance of this understanding in our Christian tradition.
Restitution for Past Hurts
The Pope also acknowledged that there were many wrongs experienced by Indigenous people in the past. Chief among these for him was the forced removal of children from their families and communities.
The Pope said that these wrongs have had their lasting effect in terms of on-going social and economic disadvantage.
While he recognizes that these wrongs cannot be undone, there must be concerted efforts on the part of the Church and our nation to address the consequences and remedy them.
Reclaiming the Message
The Bishops affirm the Pope’s message; they reclaim it and pass it on to all the members of the Church to embrace and act on with urgency and commitment.