National Reconciliation Week 2023 theme.

What a great theme, what a great challenge: Be A Voice For Generations.

In the Reconciliation Victoria May 2023 eNews, CEO Nicole Findlay writes “this year’s theme gives us a chance to reflect on reconciliation leaders who have championed change and put truth-telling at the heart of our healing and cultural learning journeys”.

I call to mind the faith-filled, proud, generous, knowledgeable Aboriginal women of the Victorian Aboriginal Catholic Ministry who lead and have led us since the 1980s, on a cultural learning journey.

Joyce Smith, Vicki Clarke, Sherry Balcombe, Betty Pike, Melissa Brickell. These women have been our truth tellers, our mentors in reconciliation and healing, as they called us to learn, to change and to create a more just, equitable and reconciled state and nation. They not only called but kept accompanying us as we tried to understand and respond but struggled to comprehend and were blind to much of their experience and our shared history.

Each Josephite region has its own significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and mentors. Many of them feature in the book Our Shared Journey a compilation of personal reflections and historical articles published by the Congregation in 2009.

Thankfully, Ravina Waldren from Murri Ministry in Queensland and Sherry Balcombe from the Victorian Aboriginal Catholic Ministry have kept leading us [the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group] and teaching us, as together we have created a Sisters of Saint Joseph Reconciliation Action Plan that has been accepted by Reconciliation Australia.

Our Sisters of Saint Joseph RAP will be launched in Sydney on the Feast of the Sacred Heart (16 June) and will guide the ongoing Josephite journey toward reconciliation into the future.

The referendum later this year asking each of us if we support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, is a unique opportunity to create a more just, equitable and reconciled Australia.

As Sr Monica Cavanagh writes in her contribution to the RAP “… our first RAP … has enabled us to reflect on and implement (decisions from) our 27th General Chapter in 2019 which stated that we ‘learn from the First Peoples of our countries and wholeheartedly support as neighbours their initiatives for recognition, agency and justice.’”

A Voice to Parliament is one such initiative and Catholic Social Services Victoria and Catholic Social Services Australia have opened registration for their three-part webinar series on this year’s Voice to Parliament referendum. You can join and book here. I strongly encourage you to do so.

Another initiative coming from our soon to be launched RAP, is that each region is asked to form a Regional RAP Working Party. This Party will continue to work with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and oganisations, to build collaborative and respectful relationships. I wonder if we can encourage any young people to join us in these endeavours?

National Reconciliation Week this year is not only about gratitude for the work of generations past, but more importantly for the benefit of generations future.

It’s a chance to ask ourselves “who we are and who we want to be as a nation?” To explore how each of us can contribute to achieving a more reconciled Australia.

Marianne Zeinstra rsj