The Josephite Risk and Dare (RAD) Conference 2023

Mary MacKillop Place opened its doors to more than a hundred young people across Australia and New Zealand to attend this year’s Risk and Dare (RAD) Conference. We gathered as Josephites – and as social justice allies – to energetically accept our call to action and confront the challenging experience of what it means to live the Gospel in the 21st century.

For the young attendees, on fire with the urgency and thirst for a fair deal for all, the call of Jesus to bring good news to those who are poor and to work for freedom for those who have been oppressed, found practical expression in the listening, learning and action-packed experiences of our days together.

As we arrived, we were welcomed to the land of the Cammeraygal people and shared in a moving smoking ceremony led by Isaac Bamblett, a Bundjalung and Wiradjuri man and an ex-student from De La Salle Ashfield. United by the circular breathing of the Didgeridoo, we planted our own Sea of Hands around the sculpture of Mary MacKillop and sang with Dominique Farah our longing for a world accepting of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Darcy Godden, a Kamilaroi and Wonnarua man, led the Acknowledgment of Country reminding us of the 65,000 years of footsteps gone before us on the sacred land now known as Mary’s Place. Bishop Vincent Long had reminded us at the launch of the Catholic Bishops’ Statement, that the Uluru Statement is a moral and social issue, and so we prayed in that spirit for a reconciled and just Australia that will listen to its unsung custodian.

There was no doubting the passion and commitment of our keynote speakers – Madeline Gleeson from the Kaldor Centre and John Falzon who led Vinnies for 20 years – as they named for us what they believe is the call of the Gospel today, and how young people can respond, as Jesus did in his time.

Led by Nick Lahey, our ever dynamic and expert facilitator, we listened and shared, grabbed ideas from each other, before gathering around a panel of young people who shared their justice involvements, describing why they do what they do, and what ideas they had about the ways that RAD participants could contribute their gifts and passions. Our topics and respective panellists included:

  • For an inclusive church – Maddy Forde
  • For a reconciled Australia – Darcy Godden
  • For those made homeless – James Sherriff
  • For refugees – Zaki Haidari
  • For multicultural Australia and Young Christian Workers (YCW) – Marilyn Bellet

RAD also offered complementary workshops in a range of justice areas that enabled us to share more deeply the possibilities open to us. Our attendees were particularly struck by the testimonies from Sr Susan Connelly (who spoke about the forgotten plight of West Papuans) and Sr Mary Leahy (who spoke about human trafficking at sea), as they reminded us of Mary MacKillop’s pioneering, practical, and courageous spirit that has stood the test of times.

The day finished with the young refugees from Treehouse Theatre sharing their stories of life before and after their journey to Australia. We agreed that there was nothing like the stories they shared to call us to commitment and action. Our attendees were inspired by the courage and raw passion displayed by these young storytellers and their desire to turn their struggle into strength.

Day Two began with the stirring presentation by Catholic Schools Performing Arts (CaSPA), directed by James Long, calling us to have the courage to create visions for change and take joy in the dreaming of journey.

The three dynamic politicians who joined us for the morning (Felicity Wilson from the Liberal Party, Jenny Leong from the Greens, and Trish Doyle from Labor) humanised the political reality as they shared their stories of justice and day to day involvements with the community. We were moved by their focus on the role of women in politics and their candid reflections on the Uluru Statement and the invitation by the majority of First Nations peoples to vote YES.

The remainder of Day Two led us to work in groups to determine ways forward and how to effectively use our voices for change, with the help of Julie Macken, the Social Justice Facilitator at the Justice and Peace Office for the Archdiocese of Sydney. School Assemblies, small group initiatives, letters and visits to politicians, rallies, table talk possibilities were some of the named possibilities and resolutions. And finally, Pope Francis spoke to us in our final session, reminding us of the importance of both dreaming and action, and the reassurance that the Church is for “everyone, everyone, everyone”.

Lead Josephite organisers Emilia Nicholas and Violet Cabral observed that RAD was a transforming experience which enabled us to understand more deeply that the Gospel is a reality for this time. It was “inspiring witnessing the way young people were led to exercise their role as democratic citizens, practice big picture thinking, and live their faith in action,” says Liesje Barratt, Mission Formation Coordinator at Catholic Mission. This was echoed by Daniel Prichard, Social Justice and Youth Advocacy Officer at Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, noting RAD “was a motivating experience that made me feel a part of something so special”.

The call and witness of Jesus in his life, and of Mary MacKillop in hers, urge us to a life centred on the Gospel, fully alive in both faith and action. As they were in their time, so we too in ours, are called to risk and dare as we live RADically today.

Our young people entered as passionate dreamers but left as learned storytellers ready to become powerful drivers of change. Sometimes we must risk shaking the structural barriers around us that obstruct access to justice and dare to dream a new reality founded on hope and courage to protect the dignity of all humanity.

Joelle Sassine
Josephite Justice Network