WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
By Richard Harmer, Chair of the Xavier Social Justice Network
and Danusia Kaska, Coordinator of the Xavier Social Justice Network.
To people living on the margins across Australia, the growing importance of volunteering cannot be understated, yet statistics indicate that volunteering in Australia is on the decline, with participation rates falling dramatically in early 2020 due to the global pandemic.
While many Australians returned to active volunteering after the easing of social distancing restrictions;, this falls short of pre-COVID–19 levels. There are 1.8 million fewer Australians volunteering in 2022 than there were in 2019.
Since the Xavier Social Justice Network (XSJN) was formed by a group of Xavier College parents in 2004, our mission has been to seek a more just society through advocacy and volunteering for those on the margins. The Network will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024, an important milestone in every respect. More importantly, with the changing landscape of volunteering in Australia, this will also mark an important inflection point for the Network and its many friends and supporters.
The XSJN is overseen by a Committee of past and present parents, as well as Old Xaverians and a Coordinator who is the support staff member to the Committee. The Committee meets monthly to discuss the important social justice issues to be addressed through the Network, to implement the Strategic Plan, to consider and approve of the agencies with which the XSJN partners, and to provide guidance for the advocacy events.
Throughout 2023, the XSJN Committee has engaged in an extensive reflection and discernment process, expertly led by John Finn, then the Province’s Executive Officer for Jesuit Social Ministries Australia. Fittingly, John was a member of the Kostka Hall community in the very year that the Network commenced.
Our focus has been the exploration and distillation of XSJN’s next five-year strategy to inspire and guide the Network towards its 25th anniversary. Before John decided recently to leave his role at the Province, he guided the Committee through a deeply reflective experience, exploring the Network’s place within the broader context of Jesuit Social Ministries, our long history with family and friends of Xavier College, and our deep connection with the many social justice agencies and programs that we support.
And yet, in the words of the late Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, “We cannot respond to today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions”. It is important to look forward, and it is an exciting time for XSJN as it develops its new strategic plan to better respond to emerging opportunities to engage in social justice in Australia.
The Network remains committed to serving people on the margins through volunteering, and making a difference to vulnerable people through advocacy that highlights the ever-present need to address the structures and systems that keep people marginalised.
Through its strategy deliberations in 2023, the XSJN Committee was reminded that the process of creating pathways towards an enduring future for the Network, and a more just and inclusive future for the less fortunate, is also a spiritual journey inviting greater authenticity and vulnerability.
For all of us, this spiritual journey is one that invites us towards greater solidarity — a remembering that we all belong to each other; a practice that encourages us to stand side by side with others, and especially those living in poverty. As part of deepening this spiritual journey, all friends of the Network have been invited to go deeper into relationships with others and themselves—seeking the magis.
The mission of the XSJN is deeply embedded in Ignatian spirituality and therefore the focus of volunteering is on building relationships and engaging in meaningful service. Ignatian spirituality drives the Network, so our work does not entail simply giving hand-outs to people transactionally, but more importantly, providing dignity and respect to each person.
The deeply Ignatian spiritual principle of “going deeper” was at the heart of each social justice advocacy event hosted by the Network this year, including the XSJN dinner in support of Jesuit Refugee Service and the Dare To Be Different (DTBD) Forum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
These two flagship advocacy events for the Network were highly successful in raising awareness and increasing the level of understanding on important and current issues in Australia today, as well as bringing together passionate people who are committed to creating a more just society for all.
At the XSJN Dinner supporting Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), guests were fortunate to hear from the Director of JRS, Tamara Domicelj, as well as Head of Policy, Advocacy and Communications, Shuja Jamal. Both speakers inspired guests with their knowledge and experiences about the work of JRS, as well as addressing the subject of what can be done by friends of the Network and the wider Xavier College community to embrace the cause of refugees and asylum seekers.
This impactful event was followed by the Network’s DTBD Forum, which featured Fr Frank Brennan SJ as the keynote speaker, attracting a full house at the Performing Arts Centre. Close to 400 guests attended to listen, learn, and deepen their understanding of The Voice. This event shared the space with the First Nations Art Exhibition, now in its seventh year.
Both events, as well as the important work of the Network’s volunteering community, truly reflect the ethos of the Network, a community of like-minded people connected by values of social justice who are dedicated to making a positive difference to others and helping to address some of the injustices in society.
In early 2024, the XSJN Committee will commence its next five-year Strategic Plan: Towards 25 Years Seeking A More Just Society, and invites the wider Xavier Community to join the Network on the journey of seeking justice through advocacy and volunteering.