National Sorry Day (26 May) and Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June), invite us to recall our need for forgiveness and healing. We need these as individuals, but just as much we need them as communities of people stuck in social and cultural practices that diminish rather than build up. The call to contrition and reconciliation with First Nations people in Australia is powerful because for too long, and in too many ways still, the dignity of First Nations people has been ignored.
The theme of Reconciliation Week was “Be Brave. Make Change.” For those of us who are Catholic in the Australian community this strong sense of mission, arising as part of a process of reconciling, resonated with the Feast of the Ascension, which occurred during the same week. Christians are commissioned with the first disciples to build the Kingdom of God here and now. That mission requires bravery now as much as ever, and it requires seeking change in the structures in our society that continue to treat people as less than human.
In this process we must recognise and celebrate the distinct cultures First Nations Australians continue to hold, despite dispossession and discrimination. This seems to be a critical part of what it means to seek a deeper unity, recognising the distinct gifts of such an ancient culture.
I was delighted to spend time during National Reconciliation Week at Redfern Jarjum College. This Jesuit primary school is missioned to educate, empower and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and partnership. It is always very energising to be at Jarjum, to be with the students who are so excited to engage and be a part of the programs there.
There is a historic and continuing connection between Redfern Jarjum College and St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point. It was heartening to be there with members of that community, along with so many others at a gala dinner, ‘Gamarada’, for Jarjum at the end of April. Gamarada is a Gadigal word meaning “friends” and the school welcomed its friends, recognising the many people who have contributed to the school’s mission over the years.
Friendship is important to any process of reconciling in community. Getting to know each other, sharing culture and the things that provide meaning in our lives are very important. It was great to see this in Sydney at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview as they engaged in Reconciliation Week, marking it with smoking ceremonies to acknowledge the sacred Aboriginal sites at the College as well as celebrate culture through story, dance and song. I know that similar practices of connection and recognition occur at all our schools.
Holy Family Parish, Emerton continues to seek to be a space for reconciliation through building community and friendship. Various First Nations groups are part of the community that utilises the parish site at Emerton. The parish works with Jesuit Social Services to provide a range of services to people across the Mt Druitt community. Jesuit Social Services also works with communities in the Northern Territory, providing services and supports for local Aboriginal communities. This is a tangible expression of our Province’s desire to reach out and work with communities where it is helpful.
Our Province is on a journey to play our part in the reconciliation our nation needs. We are blessed to draw on the wisdom of Jesuits who have witnessed to the possibility of seeking reconciliation by engaging and living with Aboriginal communities. Some of these Jesuits continue to be powerful voices for reconciliation, and a reminder of our responsibilities. This is a collective responsibility that each Jesuit and those who work in and support our ministries share.
On this journey we need to remember that we are called to draw on one of the gifts of Ignatian spirituality, the gift of accompaniment. We are called to walk alongside, to have conversation and build friendship. We can do this because, as we have been reminded recently at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is accompanying each one of us. The Spirit makes possible what would otherwise be impossible, and so gives us hope.
Fr Quyen Vu SJ
Feature photo: Gamarada charity gala dinner at International Convention Centre, Sydney. Photo by ICC Sydney.