Lead with a voice from the heart

As Australians prepare to partake in a referendum to establish a Voice to Parliament, discernment will be required.

With rhetoric surrounding both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote expected to escalate, Catholics may find solace in the words delivered by Pope John Paul II to First Nations people during his visit to Alice Springs in 1986.

“Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear… Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.

… And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.”

This sentiment, although delivered almost four decades ago, remains dear to many within the Church. It espouses the ongoing significance of Aboriginal culture not only within the Church but for the future prosperity of our society at large.

More recently, in 2021 the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council provided advice to Australia’s Catholic bishops which included their recommendation to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Among the key recommendations of the Uluru Statement are the establishment of a First Nations “Voice” to the Australian Parliament and a commission to supervise a process of “truth-telling” between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Whilst acknowledging there remain diverse views within Indigenous communities on the Uluru Statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops Council endorsed the Statement. The Council did so because the statement’s principles of reconciliation and walking together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders fit well in the Catholic understanding. This endorsement was officially reinforced by the Catholic Church in Australia after an affirmative vote by members at the second session of the Fifth Plenary Council, held in July 2022.   

Commenting on the upcoming referendum, Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin, Chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said “The conversation regarding the Voice to Parliament gives us a real opportunity to live up to our Gospel calling and Catholic social teachings; to engage and love one another.”

He also urged all Australians to use the coming months as an opportunity to learn from each other by engaging in respectful dialogue underpinned by open hearts and minds. 

“We cannot avoid the difficult questions and conversations and we may not always agree with each other, but as Christians, we always need to be respectful and to honour each other.”

Photo: Chiaro Porro, Laudato Si’ Movement’s Jacqui Remond, Pope Francis, Theresa Ardler and ACU’s Dermot Nestor with a copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart (Vatican Media)

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Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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