On Friday 11 November, the room fell silent as The Ode was read and The Last Post played in recognition of Remembrance Day at the Bishop Bede Heather Centre, Blacktown.
The memorial ceremony set the scene as Alison Ryan from the Diocese of Parramatta’s Mission Enhancement Team shared a special but conflicting connection to war during The FaithFeed Conversations.
Rather than shy away from the emotional theme of the day, Alison held the tension of seemingly disparate convictions brought up by discussions of war whilst encouraging the gathering of young people from Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to reflect on how our past informs our present and shapes our future.
Alison told the audience that men on both sides of her family served in wars in some capacity, but this family connection jars with her feelings about war.
“Anzac Day, Remembrance Day, always hit me the same each year.
“Being a pacifist, I don’t know if I buy into the glorification of war, the long-held assumptions of nationhood and the ideals of fighting and dying to prove that I love my country.
“I just don’t find these things normal. Shooting a gun, driving a tank, signing up to give your life to an institution that is designed to use violence, ducking for cover and hoping a bomb doesn’t find you or running to your death because some commanding officer told you to go over the top one more time.
“It’s not a joke or a heroic story. It’s terrifying and brutal. And yet, these are people that I love, and I have great respect and admiration for.”
Detailing her struggles with memorialising war got Alison thinking about memory and how we remember.
“One explanation that has stood out to me is that when you remember a past event, you are actually remembering the last time you remember it, not the event itself.
“Each time you remember something, the act of remembering brings with it the ‘then’ and the ‘now’.
“This reminded me of something I once learnt from a Jewish rabbi. Remembrance in Hebrew is the word zakar (זכר), whose meaning includes the notion of awareness, not just of the past, but a realisation, a making real, what it means now and for the future.
“The Jewish idea of memory is a fusion of the past and present. Memory is not simply recalling the past, but is re-membering, putting back together the act in the present.”
Recalling Psalm 24, Alison hoped to find the space to dissent against war but also holding the memory and respect of her family history.
“May we be willing to talk about things that we wrestle with. May we grow in our remembrance in a way that not only looks back, but informs our present and our future and may we remember that the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
The audience were encouraged to reflect on what memories were prompted by Alison’s story, and how we understand our own memories.
One person spoke about the need to listen to people’s stories and views on the topic of war and similar confronting issues and respecting those views and understanding that everything belongs together.
Another person spoke about how memories and our perceptions of those memories are shaped by people’s own reflection and remembrance and how they can be altered depending on the emotion felt during the situation.
Donnie Velasco, Pastoral Formation Facilitator, and the evening’s host, hoped that participants could find safety and curiosity in naming their next reflection, or even tension, on how they understood their own sense of life and faith at present.
“Just as I heard in Alison’s story, I hope that others heard that core in the Catholic expression of faith is this wrestling with and acknowledging of liminal spaces, where paradoxes like God and human – or taking Alison’s example of being for and against war – can lead us to a ‘third way’ of seeing reality and expressing our life and faith.
“Whilst acknowledging people on the night may come away with different experiences, we hope that at every FaithFeed experience, participants can receive the story of the other, be open to being impacted by what they hear and then being able to name the God-connectedness to the story and impact, whether that’s a challenge or discovery for their life and faith here and now,” he said.
The FaithFeed provides a space for those in their mid 20s to 40s to gather and share conversations about life, faith and action in the world.
You can hear Alison’s presentation on the Soul Food Podcast, produced by Pastoral Formation, Mission Enhancement Team on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
If you would like to be directly involved in The FaithFeed, you are welcome to contact Donnie as the coordinator of the initiative on 0432 042 140 or email@example.com