Over the period of preparation for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, which is set to begin on 3 October, we’ve seen a deepening focus placed on listening, discernment, dialogue, and mission.
These four qualities are an integral part of the work done by Cassandra Ebsworth and Sr Naomi Smith rsj at Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation and are central to their hope for the future of the Church in Australia.
Cassandra and Sr Naomi both attend Holy Family Parish, Emerton. Sr Naomi, who is a Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, has lived in the Diocese of Parramatta and worked with Aboriginal people in the Mount Druitt area for over 30 years. In 2012, five Aboriginal women and Sr Naomi founded Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation with the aim of making a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people in the local area. “Although we started with nothing, we shared a deep faith in our loving God that this is what we were called to do and God‘s love and kindness have been with us all the way,” she says.
Cassandra works as Baabayn’s Community Liaison and Support Worker, which sees her involved in various meaningful projects. “One of my roles is to bring the Elders together to practise for the Elders Olympics, which include games, light exercise, Falls Prevention, healthy eating and wearing good footwear,” she says. “I also facilitate a community-based Yarn-Up where we get together and share and support each other. Everyone’s yarn is validated and is listened to.” Cassandra also speaks proudly of Baabayn’s special project of converting unused space to a native garden, a timely project for this year’s NAIDOC theme of “Healing Country”. This was achieved with the generosity of Blacktown City Council’s Mayor, the Honourable Tony Bleasdale, and of many local organisations including Holy Family Parish, Kimberwalli Centre of Excellence, Sydney Water and Oakhill Catholic College. The official opening has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cassandra feels uplifted by the Church’s efforts to reach out during the time of pandemic, and she is hopeful that the Plenary Council will continue this work. “I see the churches lending a hand to people through hard times,” she says. “When everyone is vulnerable, it is good to know the Church is there to lead us in prayer and to act in practical ways that prove we are walking together.”
Sr Naomi is also excited by the Church’s renewed approach to connection and support. “I am excited that the Church in Australia, through the work of the Plenary Council, proposes to become a more missionary, Christ-centred Church,” she says. She believes it is important for this missionary spirit to feature an openness in relating to Australia’s First People in new ways, referencing the words of Pope John Paul II spoken to Aboriginal people at Alice Springs in 1986: The Church in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.
To truly value the contributions Aboriginal Australians have made and continue to make to our Church, listening is essential: the interior, deep listening of Dadirri spoken about by Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, 2021 Senior Australian of the Year. Sr Naomi believes this deep listening could be practiced by the Church in its development of a Reconciliation Action Plan. “This would help us to listen respectfully and provide opportunities for a lasting and growing relationship,” she says.
Cassandra hopes the Plenary Council will guide the Church into a deeper listening to Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal way of life, integrating traditional history and culture into the school curriculum and inviting Aboriginal pastors into schools to share knowledge and wisdom. She also sees the importance of a common space for Aboriginal people to pray and celebrate their faith. “It would be ideal for people to have access to their own church as a sacred space,” she says. “People respond when they feel welcome.”
It is now one week until the First Assembly of the Plenary Council. Nearly 280 members drawn from all Catholic dioceses in Australia will meet online to discuss the Agenda questions from 3 to 10 October 2021.
Find details on how you can participate in the Plenary Council’s daily Masses and livestreamed sessions, our Diocese’s response to the Agenda questions and further resources including the Diocesan prayer for the Plenary Council at parracatholic.org/plenary-2021/
You are invited to consider the Agenda questions and provide your feedback to them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback will be passed to the members of the Plenary Council from the Diocese of Parramatta.