Mission conference challenges us to be a Church of diversity, inclusivity & joy

Dr Carol ZInn ssj delivering her opening keynote address at the Mission: One Heart Many Voices conference.

Dr Carol ZInn ssj delivering her opening keynote address at the Mission: One Heart Many Voices conference.

Diversity, inclusivity and joy were the standout themes of the ‘Mission: one heart many voices’ conference in Sydney last week, as delegates were challenged to imagine what the Church beyond 2020 would like and go forth to help bring the vision to fruition.

Religious from across Australia were well-represented at the conference, and Dr Carol Zinn ssj, a Sister of St Joseph from Philadelphia and Executive Director of the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious, was one of the keynote speakers.

Dr Zinn spoke of leading mission, engaging the audience with an immersive presentation which included singing and audience participation. She spoke of the importance of trust.

‘Leadership for mission is about trust,’ she said. ‘Without having that relationship of trust with God, it is almost impossible to lead mission.’

The Catholic Schools Performing Arts group demonstrating inclusion.

The Catholic Schools Performing Arts group demonstrating inclusion.

The first part of Dr Zinn’s address focused on living the joy of the Gospel, the focus of Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and a key theme of the conference. Critical to doing so, she said, is choosing love over fear, inclusivity over exclusivity, and mercy over judgement.

‘We have a choice of how we’re going to be and how we’re not going to be, and we have to know the difference,’ she said.  

Acknowledging that it is sometimes difficult to do mission in our home context and step out as Jesus did, Dr Zinn encouraged the audience to witness. ‘We must witness to the Gospel if we are to be prophetic in our response,’ she said. ‘Practicing the Gospel requires a mutuality response; humility and curiosity are necessary to break down polarisation.’

Bishop Tighe, the Vatican’s Secretary for the Pontifical Council on Culture, spoke of the challenges facing the Church in today’s digital world. ‘One of the things I’ve found is that there are great things happening at local levels, and that is the richness of our Church,’ he said.

Dr Robyn Miller speaks at the conference breakfast.

Dr Robyn Miller speaks at the conference breakfast.

‘Among the main challenges we face is the question, what does it mean to be Church in the geography and demography of the digital world?’

The answer comes in authenticity, witness and what we communicate, he said. ‘When we communicate, we are communicating the person of Jesus. It is a person, not just a message.’

Earlier, the conference opened with a moving acknowledgement of country by representatives from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) and a mesmerising performance from the Catholic Schools Performing Arts group, focused on inclusion and multiculturalism.

Other keynote addresses were delivered by Mrs Ravina Waldren, Mr Robert Fitzgerald, Dr Robyn Miller and Archbishop Timothy Costelloe with Mrs Lana Turvey-Collins among others.

The conference, attended by about 400 people, concluded with a sombre prayer of lament, healing and hope, mindful of those hurting because of the Church’s failings, including Indigenous Australians and children and families affected by institutional sexual abuse.

The session was one of many powerful moments experienced in the conference, much like the raw courage of the previous afternoon, which featured a performance from the Treehouse Theatre group, consisting of student refugees from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Dr Zinn sent participants on their way with a strong message of encouragement.

‘Beyond 2020 we need to be a people of God, a welcoming people,’ she said, echoing the theme of inclusion that has been a major feature of this year’s conference.

Dr Zinn issued a tough challenge during the final conversation, in which Edmund Rice Centre Director and Refugee Council of Australia President Phil Glendenning and Charlene Robson, an education officer in faith and care from Wagga Wagga, also spoke.

Carol Zinn ssj, Charlene Robinson and Phil Glendenning in conversation.

Carol Zinn ssj, Charlene Robinson and Phil Glendenning in conversation.

‘As Charlene said, as a Church, we are going to have to sound like a two-year-old, asking “why? Why? Why?”’ Dr Zinn said. ‘Beyond 2020 I hope the Church’s answer is no longer “because I said so”.

The words that came out in the final discussion of the conference rang true on a day which included sessions on Christian-Muslim relations, welcoming and including LGBTI people in the Church, and the progress of the Plenary Council 2020.

‘Inclusivity, dialogue and encounter need to become a way of life,’ said Dr Zinn. ‘They are the Church in the future.

‘What does it mean to be male, female and everything on that fluid spectrum in between? I hope the Church beyond 2020 is having that conversation.’

Speaking on behalf of Catholic Religious Australia, Sr Stancea Vichie mss summed up the spirit of the conference. ‘We go forward from here with hope and the joy of the Gospel!’

This article is drawn from media releases from Catholic Mission. Photos also by Catholic Mission.