By Ali Biddiscombe
The 2023 Social Justice Statement encourages us to think about what we do individually and as Catholic communities, to develop new ways of engaging with First Nations people, Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton has said.
Speaking at the Perth launch of the 2023 Social Justice Statement, Thursday 31 August, Bishop Sproxton spoke about his time as Parish Priest of Mirrabooka in the late 90’s when he supported the recruitment of a first nations woman to the role of education assistant at local school.
This year’s statement, Listen, Learn, Love: A New Engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, was launched nationally Thursday 17 August.
While the Social Justice Statement is a teaching document of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, a large part of this year’s statement was written by members of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, highlighting part of the message’s exhortation to “listen”.
Facilitated by Justice, Ecology and Development Office Director Carol Mitchell, the Perth Launch opened to an emotive vision of ‘You’re the Voice’ at the Newman Siena Centre in Doubleview.
“The statement is a critically important message for us all to respectfully and prayerfully discern,” Mrs Mitchell said.
“It follows the gracious invitation from the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart and is timely given the approaching Referendum on the First Nation Peoples Voice to Parliament on Saturday, October 14.
“It was a privilege to have Aunty Donella Brown, Aunty Cheryl Lennox-Bradley and Lyn Odegaard also share some of their personal stories of truth-telling and hope, so we may Listen, Learn and Love.”
Mrs Mitchell acknowledged Bishop Sproxton’s many roles nationally and locally within the church as she welcomed him to speak.
In opening, Bishop Sproxton said we were given a year to digest, to reflect and to discover ways in which to implement some of the ideas of the annual statement.
He suggested as we approach the referendum – that we have an obligation to engage in research – thinking and in dialogue with others, to be clear as to which way we think we should vote as we have seen very little improvement or a closing in the gap, with our Indigenous population.
“You will find practical ideas on how we as a church can re-engage, or perhaps, develop a new engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with whom we live,” he said.
“This is something for us, regardless of what happens at the referendum vote, to be thinking, of what need we do individually, but also as Catholic communities, to develop new ways of engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people … in our local communities.”
Bishop Sproxton said there were suggestions on new levels of engagement our local Archdiocese could implement including appointing more local Indigenous liaison officers to engage with schools, parishes and the community.
He said there were Indigenous families within all parishes across the Archdiocese and we needed to consider ways to discern and implement the message of the 2023/24 statement.
“The bishops are calling on all Australians to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart, where First Nations Peoples have expressed their wishes for constitutional recognition through a Voice,” Bishop Don highlighted.
“As with elections, the bishops won’t be encouraging Catholics and others to vote Yes or to vote No, but to be informed – by their own conscience, but also by the richness of Catholic social teaching.
“This includes supporting the dignity of every human person and seeking the common good, so every person may have the opportunity to flourish,” he concluded.
Access the statement at: https://socialjustice.catholic.org.au/