A senior Vatican official who served as Apostolic Nuncio to Australia has told the country’s bishops that the Church is being called to be welcoming, healing and hopeful in a world challenged by war and unrest.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organisations, was on a six-day visit to Australia to mark the 50th anniversary of Australia-Holy See diplomatic relations.
During an address to Australian bishops, Monday 6 November, Archbishop Gallagher said the world was facing “challenging times”.
He said Pope Francis encouraged the Church in Australia to “hold on to hope and dream of a Church which is responsive to the needs of people, while fulfilling its calling to offer the consolation of the Resurrection and authentic solidarity to those who suffer”.
The Church’s pastors, he said, were being called to “rekindle the value of faith and connect with the suffering of humanity without forsaking the church’s specific role as a guiding light and a point of reference” for people pursuing the common good.
It was unfortunate – amid the conflict in Israel and Palestine and Ukraine – that there was a tendency to focus on the political, sociological and ideological aspects of the crises while overlooking the heart of the matter: that each side was unable to engage in “meaningful dialogue”.
Archbishop Gallagher said the Church in Australia had a role to play in offering hope to a highly polarised world and shaping what he described as a “culture of encounter and hope”.
The first way in which the Church could achieve this was by being “welcoming”.
Archbishop Gallagher said during his time as the Pope’s ambassador to Australia from 2012 to 2014 he witnessed the “renowned Australian spirit known for its warm and welcoming nature, characterised by genuine openness to people from all walks of life, regardless of their background and cultural beliefs”.
“Australians are often recognised for their friendliness and their willingness to lend a helping hand to newcomers and visitors,” he said.
“This inclusive and hospitable attitude – an integral part of Australian culture – reflects the country’s multicultural society and a genuine diversity where the notion of the fair go is highly valued.”
This had been reflected in the Church’s journey on the synodal path and through the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
The second key role was to be a “healing Church”.
Archbishop Gallagher said healing had a dual purpose – “for healing to occur one must first acknowledge there is a problem to address and have the will to address it”.
He noted the Church had “acknowledged with remorse and repentance” the crimes outlined in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It was essential, he said, to develop more effective approaches to safeguard minors – and the community as a whole – while offering those who are harmed dignity, respect and support.
Accused people needed to be treated with dignity and provided support while due process is respected, he added.
Archbishop Gallagher said healing also involved seeking reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, noting Pope Francis’ visit to Canada to meet with indigenous people in 2022.
“He (Pope Francis) emphasised that seeking forgiveness was just the beginning of the healing process and called for greater sensitivity and support for the cause of indigenous peoples, enabling them to take their rightful place in society,” Archbishop Gallagher said.
He also encouraged a “hopeful Church”, making reference to the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.
“In this time of war, hardship, loss and grief, there are two things at the heart of Christianity that are needed more than ever – hope and mercy,” he said.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Tim Costelloe SDB said the challenges of being welcoming, healing and hopeful were ones the Church was seeking to respond to through the Plenary Council and the Synod on Synodality.