This year’s Season of Creation may have come to an end, but the need to reflect on the 2021 theme: “A Home for All? Renewing the oikos of God” continues.

Romina Martiniello is the Melbourne Diocesan Director of Caritas Australia and the Social and Ecological Justice Animator for Victoria and Tasmania. During the Season of Creation, she spoke with Sabrina Stevens, a Kuku Yalanji and Yidinji woman from Far North Queensland. Sabrina is the Youth Participation Coordinator at Caritas Australia, connecting with young people in the areas of ministry, social and ecological justice. She is also the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) Youth Representative.

Romina’s conversation with Sabrina explores this year’s NAIDOC theme of “Heal Country” and how this informs the way she is living Laudato Si’, especially in light of the Season of Creation.

Romina Martiniello: What does this year’s NAIDOC theme of Heal Country mean for you, particularly during this Season of Creation?

Sabrina Stevens: The theme of “Heal Country” is such an important theme, relating to more than just the physical sense of the word. Healing is holistic and somehow relates to aspects of self. For me, it’s about our interconnected belonging to place: this means exploring what place represents to you and how does place impact your self-identity. It also means understanding what our obligations are when it comes to caring for a place that is special to you.

During the Season of Creation, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born and raised on my ancestral homelands and just how special my connection to country really is. I feel this way because who I am today relates directly to the connection I have with country, culture and faith. I am reminded that caring for creation is the duty of each and every one of us as we are responsible to care for our common home in order to preserve the sacred relationship we have with the gift of creation that God has entrusted to us.

RM: Can you share some of the ways that you #act4ourcommonhome or connect to creation during this Season of Creation?

SS: I love that Season of Creation is in Spring which is my favourite time of the year! I love being out in nature breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sun’s warmth shining down and seeing the flora and fauna around us come to life after the dormant cooler months. Growing up in Far North Queensland, you get to connect with some of the most pristine rainforests and waterways in the world, and being on the country of my old people is when I feel most connected to God. I also love growing tomatoes and basil to use in cooking at home, and seeing the bees come for pollen on flowers. It really is just a magical time!

RM: In your work with Caritas, how do you create opportunities for young people to live out the message of Laudato Si'?

SS: I get to share love for creation and the message of caring for our common home with so many young people across Australia in Catholic high schools and young adults. One of the youth programs at Caritas is the Walking with God program that focuses on supporting young adults to develop a connection with the wonder and awe of God’s creation through prayer and reflection. The Walking with God program has grown from Ignatian Spirituality as the basis to incorporating First Australian knowledge of connection to country. I get to share my relationship with creation from both my cultural heritage and my faith background. It is a really lovely way to share in the sacredness of creation while creating space for dialogue about integral ecology and ecological justice issues.

Another opportunity for young people to live out the message of Laudato Si is through the Catholic Earthcare Youth Summits. The Earthcare Youth Summit is a student designed, student led summit where senior secondary school environment and social justice leaders come together from various schools for purposeful participation, dialogue and sharing of ecological justice issues that are impacting their generation. Our most recent event was in Perth, WA on 3 September and the next event is the New South Wales Earthcare Youth Summit being hosted online on 10 November 2021. We can support these events can to run either at diocese or state level, or even as part of an existing social justice event such as a school camp.

RM: In Laudato Si', Pope Francis acknowledges that Indigenous communities should be primary dialogue partners in conversations of ecological justice, particularly where their own land and waterways are concerned. From your perspective, how can our Church and Church agencies better embrace and prioritise Indigenous perspectives in caring for our common home?

SS: Ecological justice is an issue we can all agree needs to be addressed together as one. Listening to and learning from one another is essential to building any relationship, and I believe that to build genuine relationships between the Church and our First Nation Australians then a conversation of ecological dialogue is a good place to start. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived on the land and from the seas for thousands of years by caring for sea and land holistically to ensure there will always be regeneration in the next season. Living so closely with creation is to live closely with the Creator – it is a relationship so intimately finetuned and responsive that even the smallest change in the direction or temperature of wind is of the highest importance. Nature is always speaking to us, we just need to learn different ways of listening and hearing so we can act with love and respect to care for our common home. Let’s have ecological dialogue, let’s learn new ways of caring and let’s embrace the knowledge that has existed since time immemorial.

Sabrina’s work with Caritas, Catholic Earthcare and NATSICC is testament to the need for collaboration, generosity and big-heartedness in the ecological justice space. Now, with the impetus of this year’s Social Justice Statement, we have even more reason to live out the teachings of Laudato Si, both as individuals and in our communities.

The Laudato Si Animator Group in Melbourne is a group of diverse individuals from varied groups within our Church, each with a commitment to the message of Laudato Si. We wish to amplify the stories and good work that is happening in our community, through learning from and sharing the insights of people like Sabrina Stevens at Caritas. Echoing the words of Pope Francis and the Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement, we are passionately dedicated to centring Indigenous voices and perspectives in the ongoing work of caring for our common home.

Follow Sabrina’s work through the Catholic Earthcare website. Romina Martinello is a member of the Laudato Si' Animators Melbourne Group.

About the Laudato Si’ Animators Melbourne Group

The Laudato Si’ Animators Melbourne Group is a network of people who have been meeting since 2018 to promote the Catholic Church’s social teaching on care for God’s creation within the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Our members are drawn from backgrounds in ecological formation, spirituality, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, peace and justice, environmental sustainability in education and healthcare, formation with youth, parish, and mission work. We work collaboratively within Church networks to contribute collectively to God’s mission.

The group welcomes new members to join this important work. For further information please contact Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM on cvaitkunas@columban.org.au.