By Rachel Curry
Despite focusing on the opportunities and challenges posed by our ageing population, the message of the 2016-17 Social Justice Statement is just as relevant for young people as it is for the elderly, according to the Director of the Archdiocese of Perth’s Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO), Carol Mitchell.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference launched the statement, titled A Place at the Table: Social Justice in an Ageing Society, on Social Justice Sunday on 25 September last year.
Reflecting on the statement, which will remain a focus for JEDO throughout 2017, Mrs Mitchell said she was moved by the bishops’ call for solidarity among generations.
“What I personally appreciate with the statement from the bishops is the intergenerational and whole of community focus it has – that is, we all have our own part to play to foster solidarity among generations and to ensure that older people have a place in the heart of the community,” she said.
“In fact, the Social Justice Statement Prayer, A Prayer for All Ages, includes reflections for ‘We who are growing old’ – and really, that’s all of us, isn’t it?”
As someone who is “privileged” to have her own parents actively engaged in her extended family life, Mrs Mitchell said the statement “reminds us of our inter-connectedness and need for each other”.
She added that our society can learn much from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in terms of the importance they place on Elders in their communities and their broader kin relationships.
“However, when we consider our Indigenous brothers and sisters, we also need to acknowledge that they generally don’t get the same opportunity to benefit from a longer life – meaning longstanding disadvantage is tragically cheating them of the extended life that many other Australians enjoy,” she said.
“I believe this is a real opportunity for our parishes to connect with our First Australians. The statement begins this conversation, but it would be wonderful for everyone to really embrace this message.
“We could begin by talking about the importance of Elders and then move to actions to close the gap with Indigenous disadvantage.”
The statement has resonated well with people in the community since it was released, Mrs Mitchell said, with many parishes, schools and universities exploring how they could engage more fully with its message.
“There are also other Archdiocesan agencies that already do ‘good works’ by supporting ageing parishioners and priests. However, there are always more opportunities for people to volunteer their services for such endeavours – to help their ageing neighbour,” she said.
“For those who are yet to read the statement from the Australian bishops, I recommend this to you as there is great wisdom to be shared and then acted upon.”
The statement offers some practical actions for how people can get involved, particularly within the accompanying leaflet, Ten Steps to Creating a Place at the Table.
People can visit the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) website at www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au to download the statement, along with additional material such as the Community Education Resource.
Mrs Mitchell said it was important to heed the words of Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, Chairman of the ACSJC, who wrote an introduction to the document.
Bishop Long states: “At this time in Australia, we face a threefold challenge: to work for an inclusive society that brings older people into the heart of the community; to ensure the dignity and care of people who are frail and most vulnerable to neglect or abuse; and to foster solidarity among all generations, recognising the special affinity that exists between young and old.”
“This is a wonderful invitation to action that I hope many parishioners will embrace,” Mrs Mitchell said.
“JEDO is always just a phone call or email away if help is needed to move from awareness of some of the challenges to action – so there is a place at the table for everyone.”
To contact JEDO, call 08 9241 5256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.