This week brought an all too familiar feeling as our first Kildare Ministries Retreat in three years was cancelled at the last minute. Bags were packed, flights had been booked but Mother Nature had other ideas. The focus of our retreat was to spend time ‘on country’ with aboriginal people to listen, learn, dialogue and walk together towards greater understanding, recognition and respect. The Kildare Ministry Trustees through our Living Justice Living Peace charter have called us to consider how we respond to meaningful reconciliation with our First Nations people.

Whilst it wasn’t Lake Mungo, I had the experience of walking to the top of the You Yangs on Tuesday to gain a greater appreciation of the ‘sense of place’ that the local aboriginal people have had for tens of thousands of years. As I walked, I noticed the vastness of the natural world in relation to the human built environment. I was reminded of how quickly our view can narrow to what is just in front of us rather than the bigger picture of where we find ourselves. As I walked, I noticed different things like the formation of the rocks, the play of light on the foliage, the different sounds, the varying pressure of the wind. As I walked, I reflected on how the same space can be seen with so many different lenses.

How would the artist perceive this walk?

What would the geologist notice?

Where would the historian’s attention be drawn?

I recognized that if I was walking with a local Wadawurrung person they would be walking with the deep spiritual connection to the place.

This week I met with some of our key staff including Sue Collins to initiate our process for developing a Reconciliation Action Plan using the Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education resources and process. We look forward to creating this plan to both capture what we already do here at Clonard and create some vision and goals for further development of this aspect of College life.

Earlier in the week I spent time with some of our students who come from various cultural backgrounds. All had been born overseas and come to Australia as children. They eloquently shared their experiences and how they made connections between their own cultures, religions and practices and what they experience at Clonard. I was touched by one student sharing the links she was making between learning about the customs of our First Nations people and her own cultural practices.

This year our Catholic Identity team has been working with Dr Rina Madden to help us build our identity as a Catholic school though a culture of dialogue. Dialogue can be transformative. Encountering difference allows us to know others and ourselves more deeply. This is at the heart of compassion.

Pope Francis is strong on the position of dialogue and encounter as a way of recognising the dignity of each person. This helps to build a culture that is just, peace filled and inclusive, a culture that is reflective of our Kildare Ministries values.

Today we came together as a staff to spend the day exploring aspects of the Catholic faith tradition, spirituality and religious education. We recognise that all our staff will come to the day from many different perspectives, positions of belief, life experiences and cultural backgrounds. We have invited all into the space, in the spirit of dialogue and learning, being open to noticing where the shifts might be found in their thinking, their understanding, their questioning, their beliefs or indeed their faith.

Just like a walk to the summit, every experience of the day will be different, and it is within this rich tapestry of dialogue we will experience a way of being a faith community.