The first of two gathering sessions for the Plenary Council is soon upon us. It is the first such gathering in Australia in 80 years, and distinctive because of the greater participation of lay people. We have asked various community members to share with you their thoughts on the upcoming Plenary Council, and why each of the different themes are such an important consideration for the church at this time.
Peter Arndt shares his thoughts on conversion – how might the Church in Australia respond to the call to ‘ecological conversion’? How can we express and promote a commitment to an ‘integral ecological life’ in all its dimensions, with particular attention to the more vulnerable people and environments in our country and region?)
When I look back over my life, it strikes me how self-centred and greedy I have been. I’m embarrassed to admit how that selfishness made me almost totally oblivious to the hardship and suffering faced by many people in Australia and overseas.
However, as I have spent time with people in places like the Aboriginal community of Cherbourg, the highland villages of West Papua and the streets of Honiara in the Solomon Islands, my eyes have been slowly opened to the daily struggles of some of the most vulnerable and poorest people on earth.
As I have begun to spend more time in nature, I have also started to appreciate how much pain mother earth is in because of the damage we humans have done through our greed and carelessness.
I am definitely on a journey towards ecological conversion or, maybe, to tap into the thoughts of Pope Francis, I’m on a journey towards ‘integral ecological conversion’ – integral in the sense that I am beginning to appreciate that the suffering of poor and vulnerable people all around the world is often intertwined with the suffering of our damaged earth.
None of this experience of conversion has happened miraculously. It has emerged slowly within my consciousness as I have sought to encounter Jesus more intimately through study of the Bible, in prayer and contemplation and, importantly, in my encounters with people who face poverty and injustice and with the rest of creation.
As I have grown to know Jesus and love him more and as I have tried to follow him more closely, I have become much more attentive to what is happening around me rather than to what’s happening in my own little world. I have grown less obsessed with myself and my needs and become more deeply attuned to the struggles of Torres Strait Islanders whose island homes are being inundated by rising seas, to the desperation of the Wangan and Jagalingou people who are engaged in a David and Goliath struggle to protect their country and culture in the face of the power and wealth of the Adani company, to the pain of the Indigenous peoples of West Papua who live with constant humiliation at the hands of Indonesian authorities and migrants who often call them “monkeys”, to the on-going struggle for existence of threatened species like the Richmond Birdwing butterfly and the Spectacled Flying Fox, and to the cries of the ancient Antarctic Beech at the summit of the Tullawallal Circuit in Lamington National Park that was ravaged by fires a couple of years ago.
My encounter with Jesus is changing me. It is changing my relationship with God, with people, and with all of creation. My encounter with him has taken me onto the streets and into the wild in many places in Australia and the rest of the world. I have literally gotten dirty and injured myself on many occasions as I have tried to accompany hurting people and the suffering earth. I have found Jesus waiting there for me, urging me to work with my sisters and brothers for transformation in our world, for an end to injustice and oppression. Selfishness still overtakes me sometimes, but there is no doubt that Jesus is converting me into someone who is committed to emptying himself for the sake of all humanity and all of creation. Fear overtakes me sometimes and there’s pain, but I pray for the courage to keep trusting Jesus so I can take the next step on this incredible journey of conversion. That we as a Church in Australia can take the next step.