By Br Damien Price
WE all like to be heard.
My years working with young people taught me that when young people are voiceless or powerless great damage is done to themselves and that often they “act out” their voicelessness and powerlessness in other ways.
Some go inward to depression and a loss of confidence, while others go outward in anger or rebellion.
There are so many Scripture passages where Jesus saw and heard people who too many others passed by or closed ears to.
He saw the widow of Nain, he heard the cry of the blind man and the leper, he saw the women thrown down in shame before him caught in adultery while the male offender walked away free.
There are so many instances where Jesus’ total embrace of the Kingdom of God led him to see and hear.
In God’s Kingdom we are so often invited to see what we don’t want to see and hear what we don’t want to hear.
Often what is in front of me or within me are aspects of my brokenness or my hardness of heart that I want to run away from.
One way of not seeing and not truly hearing is to label.
So when we label the other we don’t have to engage with the person, the sacred story and the truth that they and their story have for us.
In 2017 many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians gathered “from all points of the southern sky” and shared with us the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
This gathering invited all Australians “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.
The Uluru Statement reminded us that in 1967 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were “counted” (the right to vote) but that now these same peoples sought to be heard; to be voiceless no longer.
My wonderful father Frank was a New Zealander from Napier.
On my many trips to New Zealand to work with Edmund Rice schools I am reminded that our New Zealand cousins have a much better relationship with their first peoples than we do.
Over the past 10 years I have noticed that this relationship has gone from one of guilt to duty and now to shared dreaming.
More New Zealanders than ever are bi-lingual (Maori and English), cultural rituals and symbols are the norm and cherished, and many concepts and sayings – poetic in the Maori language – are woven through law and document.
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its islands, walked upon and cared for this sacred land for millennia, have art way older than that found in the pyramids of Egypt, and had sophisticated lore and language.
Our brothers and sisters desire to walk with us and be heard.
We are invited not to see this as a grudging capitulation by white patriarchy but rather a sacred opportunity for the entire Australian community to grow into a fullness of expression of our nationhood and thus shine for the whole world.
Sadly our brothers and sisters see that they are the most incarcerated people on the planet.
They cry “we are not an innately criminal people”.
They see that their children are alienated from their families in unprecedented rates and they cry “this cannot be because we have no love for them”.
They see their youth languishing in detention in obscene numbers and their hearts cry out, “These youth should be our hope for the future”.
In all of this the Uluru Statement from the Heart asks for voice – asks to be heard.
It asks what every people ask for: reforms to empower their people and take a rightful place in their own country.
The Uluru Statement asks what every people asks for – power over their own destiny and, when that happens, they know that their children will flourish.
And – for all of us – when they, their culture and their children flourish all of this will be a gift beyond price for all of us who call Australia home.
Over the coming months and years we are called as the people of God to walk nobly and proudly with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters and, together with them, ensure that a First Nations Voice is enshrined in the Constitution, gather with them to build a fair and truthful relationship and, like our brother Jesus did – when faced with pain and hurt and injustice – listen with the heart.