The recent joint Catholic Religious Australia and Catholic Mission conference was an opportunity to listen to the voices of many, writes Sister Margaret Ann Kelly SGS, within the one heart of mission in the church.
BY Margaret Ann Kelly SGS
In May, a number of Good Samaritan Sisters had the privilege of being present at the Catholic Religious Australia and Catholic Mission 2019 Conference, ‘Mission: One Heart Many Voices’.
One of the participants described the conference as a “wonderful experience of the church alive, relevant, inclusive and engaging”. I couldn’t agree more.
There were many opportunities for reflection and connection over the three days. Consistently, there was respectful acknowledgement that the conference was taking place on the traditional land of the Gadigal people. Liturgies, which featured Aboriginal instruments, and had been carefully created to highlight the ‘One Heart, Many Voices’ theme. Each participant had been gifted with a red glass heart, which was held in reflection, on several occasions throughout the conference.
A liturgy expressing the Lament – where the vulnerable, the abused, the excluded, the abandoned were acknowledged – was especially moving. From this came a cry for hope, for a church that does not polarise, but draws people to be open to all. We were encouraged to lament together, to hold one another accountable, to pursue truth, to be Easter people, to speak prophetically, meeting the challenges of everyday.
It was difficult to choose from the wide selection of interesting sessions and workshops available with expert presenters on leadership, youth, music, social justice and advocacy, sustainability and interreligious relations.
Some of the highlights including the keynote address from Dr Carol Zinn SSJ, the Executive Director of the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who provided a unique insight into the art of leadership, and Bishop Paul Tighe, the Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Culture, who discussed the ever-changing role of technology and media in mission.
Dr Robyn Miller, the CEO of MacKillop Family Services, gave a warm and engaging keynote address where she encouraged unity, particularly in leadership for mission. She spoke with deep concern of the 82 per cent increase in children coming into care over the last decade and took a moment of gratitude for the strong role models she’d found in the women religious who had taught her and with whom she has worked.
The Good Sams present were very pleased when she singled out our Sister Placid Tait who had taught her at Santa Maria, Northcote. She recognised that Placid had been a strong feminist, “Placid by name, but not by nature”. She was grateful that Placid had encouraged her to achieve, to set high academic goals, to not be daunted, but to have the determination to overcome obstacles.
The program included panel discussions on becoming a church beyond 2020 and supporting and protecting the vulnerable and marginalised.
Robert Fitzgerald AM, who was the only practising Catholic to sit on the Royal Commission, was part of the latter panel discussion. His clarity of expression and extensive knowledge based on his long service in various aspects of church as a dedicated lawyer were apparent and his experience of being involved in the recent commission made his view well worth a listen.
He said the public nature of the process means we are liable to be held more accountable than in the past and if we do not respond – and we have been given ways to respond – we will be judged far more harshly than we now judge those responsible for wrongdoings of the past.
He also referred to the acknowledgement during the Royal Commission of the historically marginalised voice of women in the church. He said if women had have had greater involvement in the decision-making around responses to institutional abuse, the response would have been different.
There was much food for thought in the presentations and the discussion groups, and the companionship with others and our own Good Sams was nourishment for the soul.
I was particularly inspired by the words of Catholic Mission’s Deputy Director, Peter Gates, who said:
“Pope Francis’ challenge for us is that ‘every man and woman is a mission on this earth; that is the reason I am here in this world’. This conference nurtures and inspires that mission in each of us to be co-creators with God for a better world for all.”
For me, and the many present, the ‘One Heart, Many Voices’ conference has renewed our commitment to be on Mission with compassionate hearts for those in need in our society.