Hope from Joan Chittister

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister speaks at a forum hosted by the Australian church reform group Catalyst for Renewal in Sydney on May 31. (Photo credit: Catalyst for Renewal/Darcie Collington)

“My hope is that our lives will declare this meeting open” -June Jordan

When Joan Chittister toured Australia these past six weeks a whole lot of hope washed over us.

And a very big meeting was opened: Thousands of us bought tickets to hear her in person, nearly two thousand in Melbourne, eight hundred in Adelaide, eight hundred in Sydney, eight hundred in Brisbane and they were just the public events. Privately, she spoke to hundreds at a gathering of Catholic Religious Australia, for her ‘family’ of Good Sams and Benedictines, and for Mater Health with its ten thousand employees. Most of these events were recorded for national and international viewing, many for religious working overseas.

More thousands tuned in to the programme, ‘Soul Search’ on ABC National radio, and on ABC South Australia. Thousands watched a Zoom presented by ACCCR, read interviews in the Adelaide Advertiser, they watched her on The Drum on ABC TV, and listened to her in conversation with Rachael Kohn, Geraldine Doogue, and soon to be seen nationally on Zoom with John Warhurst for the states she was unable to visit: Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. And, of course, for those in hospital, jail, aged care and the far reaches of the continent who were unable to attend in person.

Finally, she spoke to two hundred and fifty of our 14-17 year old students from eighteen Catholic high schools in the Melbourne Archdiocese. They, the hope of the side, blessed with a privileged education, were urged to take the responsibility of being a Public Intellectual in the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.

Why did all these people turn up or tune in? One religious superior put it to me very succinctly: “Joan is an orthodox Catholic to her core”. She is not contradicting church teaching, she is asking us to live it and live it faithfully and more abundantly. Our ‘Roots’ are in the gospels and the theology of Vatican II. As she says, “this Council called upon the church to be the church that the church was meant to be”. Each person came to each meeting to be confirmed, to be reassured, to be blessed so that they could try, one more time, in hope, to take ‘Wings’ within the best of the Catholic tradition. They believe her when she tells them that we have all been called - to engage in the ongoing work of co-creation of God’s world.

—by Gail Grossman Freyne, PhD, LL.B, 
Vice President of Catholics for Renewal