Bishop Vincent stresses dignity of human person at inaugural St Bakhita Lecture 

By Mary Brazell, 29 February 2024
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, delivers the inaugural St Josephine Bakhita Lecture at Australian Catholic University’s Blacktown campus, on her patronal feast day of 8 February. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Alone, we may feel powerless about preventing modern slavery, but together, we can make a difference. 

This was the call to action from Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, as he delivered the inaugural St Josephine Bakhita Lecture at Australian Catholic University’s Blacktown campus, on her patronal feast day of 8 February. 

In his address titled, ‘Human Dignity and the Pursuit of the Common Good,’ Bishop Vincent explored the theological groundings of human dignity, and how we can make a difference by sharing God’s love in the world. 

“We are driven by the Christian social vision that springs from a profound sense of the mystery of the human person as an image of God,” he explained. 

“The creation stories depict God’s sheer delight in creating human beings. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation. But perhaps the human characteristic that most reflects God’s image is our desire to love. 

“When we demonstrate the power of sacrificial love, the love of forgiveness and kindness, we experience the astonishing power of God’s love reflected in us. 

“In Jesus, we learn the shape and size of God’s love. He reveals it through his acceptance, respect, affirmation, compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, especially towards those on the margins of society. 

“In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes real our understanding of ‘who is my neighbour?’ The hallmark of our discipleship can be seen in how we make that love real in our relationships, how we serve the most vulnerable, how we break down divisions that undermine human dignity and solidarity of our communities.” 

In speaking on the rights of human beings to a share in the world’s material goods, Bishop Vincent spoke about the practice of Sabbath and its value for the common good.

“In line with Catholic Social Teaching, the rights of individuals to personal possessions and community resources must be balanced with the needs of the disadvantaged and the dispossessed. 

“Everything is given to us in trust by God. We are only stewards – we are not absolute owners – who are called to use the goods entrusted to us in a way that brings about our salvation and the betterment of our brothers and sisters. 

“In the Old Testament, God is presented as the sole owner of the land and he apportions it to the people as its stewards. To care for the land is the duty of God’s people.  

“In exile, the observance of the Sabbath was pivotal for the formation of a covenant community that God intended, a community where there would be no one left behind. This practice of sabbatical rest and jubilee seek to maintain human dignity, long term sustainability and fruitfulness. 

“Today, we must turn away from imperial values of domination and extraction and recover the sabbatical values of regeneration, reciprocity and conviviality. The day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds its light on the whole week and motivates us to greater concern for nature and for the poor, Pope Francis says. 

“One of the documents of Vatican II reads, ‘God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of every human being and people. Whatever forms of ownership may be, attention must always be paid to the universal purpose for which creative goods are meant to serve.’” 

Through Catholic educational institutions like ACU, Bishop Vincent stressed the importance of forming a new generation of global citizens that value the common good. 

“Catholic education is premised on the fundamental dignity of each and every individual person. We are charged with a special mandate to offer hope to those who are disadvantaged. 

“In reading the signs of the times, we are especially challenged to be places that are deeply rooted in the Gospel values and where the vision for the fullness of life for the poor and marginalised is enhanced in every respect. 

“Just as Pope Francis calls for the politics of inclusion in the lives of systemic inequalities in the world and the individualism that underlies the operations of Western society, we need education that forms young people into men and women of deep solidarity as opposed to individualism and self-interest. 

“Jesus’ model of privileging the downtrodden can serve as a model for us in working towards an economy and social structure that prioritises the care of people and care of the environment. 

“May the teaching and example of Jesus guide us as we endeavour to build our relationships and communities that mirror the reign of God.” 

As part of the campus celebrations for St Bakhita’s feast day, Bishop Vincent celebrated Mass for staff, students and local community members alongside Campus Chaplain Fr Pawel Barszczewski OP. 

“St Josephine Bakhita overcame extraordinary odds in order to rise and become what Pope St John Paul II called ‘a shining advocate of genuine emancipation’,” Bishop Vincent said in his homily. 

“Her legacy that transformation is possible through suffering is not only a message of hope for our world but a reminder to right against injustice wherever we see it.” 

Campus Dean Dr Valentine Mukuria said the inspiration for setting up the lecture series was to provide an opportunity to reflect on the values of St Josephine Bakhita. 

“It was essential for us as an institution, in partnership with other organisations, to have a mandate to look at people with all the dignity that comes from being children of God,” she explained. 

“We take our responsibility seriously around this intellectual tradition and making sure we are not just looking at students from an academic perspective, but a holistic support of the mind and heart and the work that we are all called to do.  

“For many of our students, we find a lot of their lives, their histories and their backgrounds tend to be similarly soft and unspoken to that of St Josephine Bakhita. 

“She’s a big inspiration in terms of the adversities that she’s overcome, but also with a transformation and depth of mind and heart that overcomes all that. Our students are able to recognise that with what pursuit they have of higher education, it’s only one facet for that transformation. 

“We walk alongside our students to ensure they achieve success, but for us, they are not just a student, not a number but a beautiful soul that has a very deep and specific mission.” 


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