Media and Communications Office
More than 200 Catholic and community leaders today gathered for an opening keynote address by Phil Glendenning AM to launch the first day of the Catholic Social Services national conference, 'Hearing, Healing and Hope'.
Held at the Catholic Leadership Centre in East Melbourne, the three-day event seeks to study a range of key issues facing society and the Catholic sector, reflecting on the implications of societal and political change and the Church’s need to hear and heal, and its hope to foster a stronger community.
Phil Glendenning AM addresses the audience - Photography: Fiona Basile
As Director of the Edmund Rice Centre and President of the Refugee Council of Australia, Mr Glendenning’s address explored the mistreatment of Indigenous and Torres Strait Island peoples, the 24 million refugees throughout the world, as well as victims of institutional sexual abuse.
‘History happened here,’ said Glendenning, after recognising the traditional custodians of the land and thanking the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry’s Acknowledgement of Country. ‘Much of that history remains unfinished business, unreconciled.’
‘And as the old saying goes, if we do not learn from the sins of our history, we are bound to repeat them.
‘As a nation, repeat them we have, for too long and too often—not just with regard to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, our First Peoples, but also to the last to arrive, people seeking asylum and refugees.’
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Coordinator, Sherry Balcombe - Photography: Fiona Basile
Glendenning then turned attention to hearing and healing in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.
‘I believe that this post-Royal Commission time offers a real opportunity for liberation and redemption for the Church in Australia. The truth sets us free, and this ugly truth had been hidden for too long,’ he continued.
‘One of the biggest challenges we face is to reflect on the leadership required to address the need for root and branch reform in the Church, and in our wider society, to ensure that what we have heard over the past five years, can never happen again.’
Pointing to the exemplary and solitary example set by Pope Francis, Glendenning explained it is easy to be cynical when examining global leadership. ‘There are plenty of challenges,’ admitted Glendenning, ‘but there is also plenty of hope.’
‘There are plenty of challenges but there is also plenty of hope.’ — Phil Glendenning AM
The Edmund Rice Director said it was important to consider ‘the citizen’ in today’s environment, where it ‘seems we all live together in an economy rather than a society.’
Glendenning suggested that people in society were ‘citizens’, however members of an economy were ‘customers’ led by wealth and consumption.
‘Those who live in a society are valued inherently for who they are, as human beings with inalienable rights; in an economy we value people for what they can do.
‘Once we base our relationships and interactions on economics rather than humanity, it becomes easier to treat people in inhuman ways,’ he explained.
As president at the Refugee Council of Australia, Glendenning highlighted that the ‘24 million refugees, the population of Australia, are not just numbers. They are human beings. They are brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, friends, they are children. More than half are children.’
A packed audience watches on as Phil Glendenning opens Thursday's proceedings - Photography: Fiona Basile
He expressed that human beings should never be used as a means to an end and that the wrongs and cruelty experienced by refugees and people seeking asylum must stop.
People on the fringes of society who experience hardship and disenfranchisement needed to be listened to, Glendenning said.
‘They need not be spoken about or spoken on behalf of, but a space to be created where their voices can be heard,’ he said.
Gesturing to the audience, Glendenning said that the Catholic Church needs to act with society in mind and stand up for the weakest, the poorest and minorities. A failure to do so, he declared, would be ‘a sad replication of the Church Jesus wants us to be.’
‘Time to start blowing on those clay whistles, and go and change history,’ he concluded.