Church leaders engage with First Nations culture

NATSICC chair John Lochowiak leads a smoking ceremony during the joint meeting of bishops and leaders of religious institutes

Australia’s bishops and leaders of more than 30 religious institutes gathered in North Sydney on Saturday to pray together, reflect on their ministry and discuss issues of mutual relevance.

Each year, the Church leaders meet during the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s May plenary meeting for a half-day.

At this year’s gathering, part of the agenda was dedicated to participation in the Cultural Competency in a Catholic Context course designed by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council.

Catholic Religious Australia president Fr Peter Jones OSA said while people from many religious institutes and dioceses have already participated in the course, it was important for it to be presented in this forum.

“This meeting each year is a chance for us to consider how we, each with our own responsibilities, can better serve the People of God in our various contexts and carry out the Church’s mission,” he said.

“In our Australian setting, and as we prepare for the referendum on the Voice to Parliament, it was a fitting time to reflect on the unique place of First Nations Peoples in our nation and in our Church, and how we can walk with our friends in effective and appropriate ways.”

John Lochowiak, the chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, welcomed the chance to engage with the Church leaders and present the course.

“We designed the Cultural Competency in a Catholic Context course to be delivered online, but to do it in person creates an additional opportunity for meaningful engagement,” he said.

“We hope that the signal of those leading the Church in Australia taking time to participate in this course will encourage other Catholics to take up the invitation.”

A commitment to having those working in the Church undertake the course was one among the decrees passed during the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.

Bishop Charles Gauci, the chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, said the course was part of a broader focus on matters affecting First Peoples at this plenary meeting.

“We were able to dedicate time to the referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, hearing from Fr Frank Brennan and John Lochowiak, and discussed how the bishops might be able to speak meaningfully and with a distinctively Catholic perspective into that issue as Jesus would want us to,” Bishop Gauci said.

“We will also this week review the 2023-24 Social Justice Statement, titled A Place at the Table: Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, which will be published later this year.”

Staff of the Bishops Conference recently undertook the Cultural Competency in a Catholic Context course, assisted by NATSICC staff and a member of NATSICC’s national council.