Internet Edition Issue 8
Bishop's Christmas Message
2005 Social Justice Sunday Statement -
2005 Social Justice Sunday Statement
Launch Address by Mr Phil Glendenning
2005 Social Justice Sunday Statement-
Response to the Launch Address by Sr Patty Fawkner SGS
From the Office of Justice,
Ecology & Peace
Marcello Bianchini-A Man with a Generous Heart
2005 Social Justice Sunday Statement
Launch Address by Mr Phil Glendenning
Director, Edmund Rice Centre
I would like to thank the Bishops and the Council for the honour of launching this Statement, which is a timely document. It is different to other recent Social Justice Statements in that it does not consider a particular issue, and does not seek to lay out specific plans for action. This important next step will be up to us in our communities to determine. I believe this statement is important and well-timed because of the times we find ourselves in.
This statement is important because it seeks to reclaim for Christians the fact that a fundamental tenet of our faith is social justice. It is not an added extra, it is integral. In the USA the dominance of the Religious Right in politics has had a profound impact on the life of that nation. It is worth noting that the raft of fundamentalist religious think tanks and media outlets offered precious little when it came to looking after the poor, disadvantaged and disabled in the wake of the hurricane in New Orleans.
This document takes us back to the foundations of faith declaring that Christianity cannot be reduced to a private individual inner journey, but must also be about a relationship with Jesus that lights up the injustices of the world and inspires us – individually and collectively – to work for justice, human rights and dignity.
This Statement refers to Jesus as the Light of the World. The need for light in the darkness is a challenge for all of us – not just Christians – to look at our society and identify where the darkness is. We are challenged to identify the structures that oppress, that spin people to the very edges of our society, and then to do something about it. The statement does not offer ideas for social action but lays down core principles upon which the essential analysis and action need to be based.
Such analysis is an important and essential response to the Statement. At this point in our nation’s history, there remains a fundamental inequity that darkens our best aspirations and diminishes all of us. This is especially with regard to the First Peoples, the Indigenous nations of Australia, and those who can be termed the ‘Last Peoples’ the refugees and asylum seekers who have most recently come to this country. Historically, of course, it is these two groups who have been constantly marginalized in the life of the nation.
This historical negativity towards the most recent refugees in this country ignores the reality of what eventually happens. We know that within 15 years one of the young kids off the Tampa will be opening the bowling for NSW, scoring the winning goal for the Hockeyroos, and graduating with a PhD at uni. We know this because this is what happens in Australia. Yet at the same time, Indigenous Australians continue to see themselves marginalized in their own country.
If we are fair dinkum about the importance of living the Gospel today, this unfinished business of our history must be dealt with.
As we sit here today in the year 2005, it remains a fact that an Indigenous child born today in Brewarrina or Balgo will live less years on the planet than a child born today in Bangladesh or Mozambique. This is a long way from realizing Pope John Paul II’s statement in 1986 that the Church in Australia will not fully be the Church that Jesus wants it to be unless and until the Aboriginal people have made their fullest contribution to the life of the Church. It’s pretty hard to make a contribution when your life expectancy is 54 nationally, or 35 in some parts of the country. This remains a national disgrace.
If ever there was a need for the light to be shone in a dark corner of our national life this is surely it. It will be a test of our commitment to the aspirations inherent in this Social Justice Statement to see whether this fundamental injustice at the heart of life in this nation might be raised in our parishes, in our schools, in our Catholic Education Offices, in the Bishops Conference, in our families, and in our advocacy with politicians and leaders. Moreover, not to raise these matters with a public collective voice means that we will be the ones responsible for extinguishing the healing life-giving light of Jesus at a time when the world needs it more than ever.
It is pleasing that the Statement reflects that this light is not just ours to give but calls us to be in a position to receive the light from others. To put ourselves in a position to be challenged to move towards the light that shines from those at the edges and the margins, and to look at life from the perspective of the outcast, the stranger, and the refugee, the other.
The model for this is Jesus Himself. The Social Justice Statement refers to Matthew’s Gospel and points to the fact that even as His inevitable and painful death is approaching Jesus’ thoughts were elsewhere. His final teaching to his followers is about the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger.
The Statement emphasizes the importance of the need to address the causes as well as the symptoms of injustice. This can be an uncomfortable business.
Occasionally, those who benefit from the status quo will seek to persecute or dismiss those who advocate change. ‘Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it’. This can cause some to steer clear of advocacy, or
as Dom Helder Camara said famously, “When I feed the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist”. This statement urges Christians to become engaged in the world and in the pursuit of justice, meaning that if we get it right from time to time, we will attract enmity and persecution from those who’d like to keep things the way they are. This is not necessarily a negative thing. If you’re copping flak it probably means you are over the target.
Too many Australians are trapped by what the Statement calls the ‘ravages of the disease of affluence’. This has meant that too many of our people are forced to live lives of quiet suburban disappointment. Afflicted with the notion that things haven’t quite worked out the way they would have liked. Wedded to a mortgage, car loans, credit cards that are “maxed out”, the need to keep working to pay for it all so we always have to be busy. Busyness is another one of those tyrannies of the modern age, spirit-killer.
The Statement tells us that Christianity is not a private indulgence. It must also develop a collective community life of active devotion to justice and action that works for a peaceful world. What good is our own inner peace if it comes at the expense of those whose lives know no peace, no light, no way out? The life of Jesus of Nazareth is a model for social change in favour of the poor, the excluded, the outcast and the stranger. He spoke the truth to power, he was a change agent and he was crucified for it.
This Statement is different from other Social Justice Statements in that it does not address a specific issue of social justice. It does not lay down recommendations for lobbying and advocacy, nor does it provide a strategic plan for corporate action. Yet the taking of such action will be fundamental to the success of the document. That task rests with all of us, in our parishes, schools, homes and organizations.
What the Statement does do is reiterate the fundamental case for social justice as basic to the practice of our faith. It cannot be compartmentalized away, or dismissed as something that the Church does. It is surely what the Church must be – internally and in our engagement with the world – the faith that does and is, justice. In every parish and school, and Church organization let us work for an Australia and a world where: the needs of the poor take priority over wants of the rich; where the freedom of the weak takes priority over the liberty of the powerful and where the access of marginalized groups takes priority over the preservation of an order which excludes them.
If we are to find and worship the divinity, if we are to touch the transcendent, we must serve humanity. Quiet lives of suburban disappointment are not the lives humans were meant to live. This is something the refugees in Syria understand, the youth of Rwanda understand this, Indigenous Australians have understood this for millennia. To be and receive the light of Jesus in our world, surely we must stand with them, be in relationship with and be prepared to hear the Gospel from them.