At the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council, members voted in favour of endorsing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

For over a century, our nation has struggled with the question of how to justly recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty prior to European settlement. The most recent articulation of the problem came from the 2017 First Nations National Constitution Convention, the result of which was the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

This week, Plenary Council Members have been gathering in Sydney from across Australia to discern and vote on a series of motions addressing various issues facing the Church in Australia.

Three of the motions being considered this week seek to address the Church’s relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, acknowledging past injustices and moving forward with a commitment to justice, truth and reconciliation.

In order for motions to pass, they must receive a two-thirds majority—a ‘qualified majority’.

All three of the motions on this topic passed with an overwhelming qualified majority, including a motion calling for the Plenary Council to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

More than politics

While the wording of the Uluru Statement from the Heart leaves room for continuing discussion and debate, particularly in relation to what enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution might look like, the Statement itself is much more than a political stance.

As Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has noted, it is at once ‘bold and modest and deserving of ample attention’.

It is a cry of heartache and pain; it is a lament for what has happened to First Nations people in the wake of European settlement and because of it; and it is an assertion of an unextinguished sovereign relationship to the land.

Among other things, it asserts that First Nations peoples have had a spiritual sovereignty and connection with the land for more than 60,000 years, and that while that connection experienced challenges in the past 200 years, it has never been broken or destroyed.

It mourns the outcomes for many First Nations youth, who ‘languish in detention in obscene numbers’ and who are alienated from their families: ‘They should be our hope for the future.’

The Statement, which in November last year was endorsed by Australia’s Catholic bishops, calls for a ‘fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia’, and seeks ‘constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.’ This includes the call for a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution.

‘We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future,’ the Statement concludes.

The Church Jesus wants

In his 1986 speech to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Alice Springs, Pope John Paul II spoke movingly about the integral place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have within the Church:

And the Church herself 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 (§12).

Pope John Paul II’s words are very dear to the hearts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics and were also openly recognised in the motions considered by the Plenary Council.

The endorsement of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the other relevant motions, are a further step on the way to realising this dream of joyfully recognising and receiving the gifts of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters in the Church today.