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Wednesday, 17 May 2023 16:57

One Heart Many Voices Conference speaks to truth telling

Truth telling and speaking with the heart were running themes of Catholic Mission's recent 'One Heart Many Voices' conference. 

Dean Parkin
, Director of From the Heart and Yes 23 spoke of the way reconciliation needs to be underpinned by truth telling.  He spoke boldly of the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in their struggle for constitutional recognition, and their journey, to deliver 'The Uluru Statement from the Heart' to the Australian people in 2017. 

In many ways, the continuing journey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a synodal one.   There are mulitiple communities, multipile opinions so there are going to be differing opinions, but this doesn't necessarily represent conflict,” said Mr Parkin.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, states very clearly that the form of recognition must be through a Voice to Parliament.” The power of having a voice that is heard, opens the way to tangible recognition and reconciliation and will have a real impact on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, he said.  


Dr Elissa Roper, who was the keynote speaker at the Sandhurst Assembly in February this year joined Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Bishop of Sandhurst to speak about “Truth Telling, Synodality and Mission.” 

“Truth telling operates through the power of parrhesia which is defined as bold honest and free speech … it is empowering rather than crushing or alienating,” she said.  

“In the earliest months of his pontificate, Pope Francis turned the tables on the usual bland undertakings of the Synod of Bishop’s Assembly when he told them: 

"After the last consistory in which the Family was discussed, a cardinal wrote to me saying --what a shame that several cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, perhaps believing that the Pope might believe something else, or think something else. This is not good, this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say that all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say, without polite deference without hesitation and at the same time one must listen with humility and welcome with an open heart what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two approaches."

Bishop Shane Mackinlay
  used an example from the Australian Plenary Council to illustrate ways of being a Synodal Church. 

“A synodal Church is one that listens, listens to all the voices in order to listen to the Holy Spirit. It does this in a spirit of prayer grounded in the Liturgy and the Word of God. It’s a way of being Church, the adjective works much better, or an adverb if you like, a way of being Church. 

It’s something we can only do together. In communion, and it’s something that we need to participate in.  Discernment – is a shared activity so it involves participation, and it is directed to renewing our prophetic witness to the human family. 

We need to ensure we have space for listening, and listening humbly, and both of those are guided by the Holy Spirit. We’re called to speak, and we’re called to hear – and hear everything that is being said in and through the various voices.  Dialogue is a process of discernment – seeking to recognise God’s action amongst us. We reflected that very well in the Plenary Council Prayer that we prayed over and over, over the years. 

Pointing to a large image on the screen behind him, depicting the Wednesday session of the Plenary Council after the deliberative vote on the motions for the Equal Dignity of Women and Men was announced, Bishop Shane continued: 

“That was a moment of crisis. It was a moment of great disappointment, great heartache, great hurt, anger. Of not being sure what we do next. But we did do something next … and as I look back on it now, more and more I realise what a pivotal point that was.”  

“In moving forwards, not only did we find a way forward in relation to the motions of this area, on witnessing the equal dignity of women and men. It actually changed substantively the quality of the dialogue and indeed the outcomes of the decisions that we made about the remaining four areas that we were looking at.” 

So, what made that difference?  What allowed that dialogue to actually enter a new phase?  First, I think there was a shared commitment to ensure there was a positive outcome. It was very clear across the room that everybody was determined that the failed vote could not be the last word on this topic. 

So, there was a shared commitment that somehow, we needed to move forward.  Then there was certainly courageous speaking, which was not just about speaking loudly or boldly. One of the things that happened in that moment, I think, was that people and people from all sides – because there were passionately held views and experiences both in support of the text as they had been put – and against them. And everybody had been effected viscerally by those experiences, and the failed vote highlighted that enormously. 

As I look back, I think part of what happened was, there had been plenty of discussion leading up to the vote, and people had spoken with great generosity and great commitment to the process. But to some extent it had been a speaking form the head, an exchange of ideas.  This is what I think; this is what I thought when I read the documents; this is what I brought with me that I want to say; this is why it’s really important that you hear what I’m saying. 

Talking about the time spent in dialogue after the deliberative vote, Bishop Shane explained, 

The dialogue … shifted ... the content wasn’t much different, but people spoke much more from the heart, in a way that was very vulnerable that put themselves on the line in whatever the experience they were coming from, both for and against areas.  People spoke about the lived experience of how they were effected, by the various parts of the motions, not just what they thought about them. And that was heard, that was received. So, there was humble listening, listening that was open to conversion, and conversion means being open to moving, to ending up in a different spot from where you started, seeing something differently, seeing other people differently. By the end of that week, the way that people who were disagreeing about their approach to various things, or their views on various things, had changed.

Seeing the different a perspective and hearing them articulate the different perspective of other people who they had been in dialogue with, was really very very powerful.

So, part of that is Listening from the heart rather than listening and thinking – now what am I going to say, what’s wrong about this and how am I going to prove, or what am I going to say in response to this, what’s my counter argument going to be.  And that’s tough. 

If we’re open to learning, that means that we’re prepared to contemplate letting go of what we thought beforehand. 

A humble listening is a costly listening. Hearing someone speak from the depths of how they’re effected and being prepared to be shifted myself is costly.

So, in the end, if you look at the initial text and the one that we finally agreed on, the content didn’t change a great deal.  There were a range of adjustments ...  What changed was that people felt heard and they appreciated the significance of what other people were saying differently to the way they had beforehand. 

Seeing what that actually means, and the impact that it can have has been actually very worthwhile.