From the Regional Director of Oceania
There is an easy answer to the question, “What is the mission of the Church in Australia?” It is the same answer for the Church anywhere in the world. The mission of the Church, established by Jesus, is to bring about a unity of all people and all things in the one God. Given the conflicts in the world, this is a mighty mission, and without the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to do it.
Currently, the Church in Australia is considering this same question by holding a Plenary Council. A positive outcome of the process so far is that the first item on the agenda is the relationship between First Nations people and all the rest of us who arrived in this country later. Given the terrible history of the relationship between these two groups of Australians, there is no wonder there is a strong call for reconciliation and justice.
We can acknowledge the working of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of many people who have committed to building bridges of understanding and respect for First Nations people. The document from the Plenary Council takes its lead from NATSICC (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council), which has a vital role in the life of the Australian Church. There are good practical proposals recommended to build this unity desired by God.
The introduction to the section on First Nations starts with: “All Australians have much to learn from the cultures, spirituality and knowledge of the country of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” I have heard this often and totally agree. Whenever we see another big bushfire, I keep thinking, “Why don’t we learn something from First Nations people?” This is OK as far as it goes, but what about spirituality and theology? Can w learn more about God by listening to First Nations people?
I recently listened to a podcast by Dr Anne Patell-Gray, a Bidjarra woman from western Queensland, and realised that I do have much to learn about the Gospel, about God, from them. As a theologian, she was able to speak of God, the Creator, as she was taught by her family growing up. She spoke of the gifts of her own spirituality and faith. Coming from a collective culture, she had learnt to share with the rest of the community and understood that this was what the Creator wanted of her and of the rest of the world.
In the podcast, she is also critical of much that she had heard from the Church. She points out that the way we interpret the Bible and indeed all of our theology depends very much on the lens that we bring to the task. If we are of a white, colonial mindset then that conditions what we see in the text. If we come to it with a mindset formed by living on the periphery of Australian Society, we see something different. The message of Jesus has a different impact on us.
In listening to this podcast, I was reminded of the experience of many of our Columbans who work in poorer countries and also those who work in cultures shaped by other religions. “Solidarity and “dialogue” are two words that have become important for us as a result.
As we in the Church ask questions of ourselves here in Australia, maybe we should bring the same two words to our understanding of our own mission. Our theology recognises that the Holy Spirit not only created Australia and the people in it over many thousands of years and that the Spirit continues to inspire and guide the First Nations people. The rituals they have developed and the law they follow are all ways and means of expressing their faith and spirituality. Their lives were and are influenced by the work of God. Like all of us, they too share in the sinfulness of the world and together, we hope for a better world graced by our loving God.
The mission of the Church in Australia is to recognise and celebrate the working of God in our midst, including everyone and every place. These post-Pentecost times promise that God is always with us until the end of time, and this is the basis for our hope.
Fr Trevor Trotter
Regional Director of Oceania
- Read more from the current Columban eBulletin