The season of Spring has burst forth yet again here in the Southern Hemisphere. The seeds that have laid dormant during the winter months are now filling our world with beauty and colour. Fresh green leaves are busting forth on trees restoring hope that new life continues to emerge in even the most difficult of circumstances. Searching for hope in our troubled Church and world, may we draw hope and strength from these words ‘Creation tells us that within God there is the paschal idea of life through death’ (John Sivalon mm).
Many justice issues continue to confront us here in Australia and on the international scene. The countless situations of refugees and asylum seekers continues to call for our response. Here we are challenged daily by the languishing of refugees, especially children on Nauru. The situation in Syria and on the US Mexican Border are yet another reminder of the thousands fleeing their homeland as a result of fear, corruption and war. They are prepared to risk everything in the hope of finding new life and opportunity in other parts of our world. For many, refugee camps have become a permanent place of residence.
Our own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to struggle to have their voice heard on matters such as potential nuclear waste dumps in South Australia, deaths in custody and on-going health and educational issues.
During September we celebrate with Christians of all traditions and leaders of faith traditions the Season of Creation. Our current drought-stricken reality here in Australia is a reminder of how urgent it is to address the reality of climate change. We are being called to recognise that Earth is being abused and that poor people are the first to suffer if we fail in our responsibility to address the needs of our common home Earth.
On 6 September, the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference launched the annual Social Justice Statement - A Place to Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land. This statement outlines the reality of homelessness in this country. In the statement, the Bishops emphasise that housing is a human right, asserted by documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the teachings of our Church. Housing, the Bishops say, is ‘an essential entitlement for all people to meet their basic needs, flourish in community and have their inherent human dignity affirmed and upheld by others’. The recent series on SBS ‘Filthy Rich and Homeless’ assists in bringing home the plight of those who find their home on our streets. I was challenged by Bishop Long’s question: do we, like those in the story of the Good Samaritan, walk past those in the street in need of help, wounded by violence, misfortune or poverty or do we stop and help and at the very least, respect them with dignity? As was reflected in the SBS series, there is a story behind every person experiencing homelessness.
This past month has also provided the Church and the Australian community with an opportunity to engage more deeply into the tragic story of the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. As religious women and men we have heard and listened to, the testimonies of pain and suffering experienced by so many victims and survivors and their families during the years of the Royal Commission and know that the wounds inflicted have a life-long impact on each one’s life. With the release of the response of CRA and ACBC to the Royal Commission’s recommendations specifically related to the Catholic Church and the Truth Justice and Healing Council reports, we, as religious women and men, are now in a place to enact these recommendations with a more concerted approach. This action has been greatly assisted by the Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry Conference held in Melbourne 27-29 August and by the seminars held by the Wollongong and Parramatta dioceses with Fr Hans Zollner sj, President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Making the Church a safer place for our children and vulnerable persons is at the heart of our commitment to mission. It is about ensuring that safeguarding children and vulnerable adults will be integral to everything we do in the Church, every activity and ministry.
This past week, we have joined NAPCAN - National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect in highlighting the need to create an Australia where all children can grow up safe and well. Catholic Religious Australia commits itself to working alongside the Implementation Advisory Group and Catholic Professional Standards Ltd in bringing about the much needed change that the Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children and Vulnerable Adults requires of us.
The journey to the Plenary Council continues. We might ask ourselves, will it make a difference? This is a time to trust and believe that the voice of the Spirit will be heard in the stories of the people. Stories that will draw us into the heart of people’s experience, suffering and hope. It will require each one to become an involved participant, that requires an adult ownership of the Church, as the People of God. The small group encounter is an opportunity to know that we are a community of missionary disciples believing that the power of the Spirit is alive and active in our collective wisdom. Let us move forward believing that the living God walks with us into a new reality of Church in Australia.
Sr Monica Cavanagh rsj
President of Catholic Religious Australia