Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Curtains For Jesuit Justice Centre

Calling for the Uniya spirit to live on, former director Good Samaritan Sr Patty Fawkner says that the legacy of the Sydney-based Jesuit research and advocacy centre, which closes this week, must not be allowed to die.

Speaking at a Uniya farewell, Sr Fawkner said she was "both sad and glad to be here"Sr Fawkner characterised Uniya as a "Jesuit voice for justice in a period of the Church's life when many religious congregations were rediscovering that a commitment to the gospel was a commitment to justice and intrinsic to the Christian life".

Recalling a visit to the Uniya office in 1998 or 1999, she described it as a "pretty dingy affair" with founder, Fr Frank Brennan "the only sign of human habitation".

"So, another impression I had about Uniya, was that like its namesake Uniya Station at Daly River in the Northern Territory, which was subject to seasonal flooding, Uniya Kings Cross had also known its ebb and flow in terms of staffing, influence and output," Sr Fawkner said.

Later as director Sr Fawkner said she "had the impression, perhaps not only of Uniya, but more generally of the Jesuits, of a group committed to mutuality, to partnership and a genuine openness to work with women".

"Working in the field of social justice, the temptation is to go off half-cocked, to take the self-righteous moral high ground, to become even violent in one’s rhetoric by playing the blame game, to resort to motherhood statements, or to be enmeshed in ideology. This was not the Uniya way," Sr Fawkner said.

"The Uniya message was always undergirded by the message of the gospel of fullness of life for all, especially for those made poor. But it never retreated into Church speak, or into political theory speak. Uniya never spoke down to people, but it did make complex issues accessible. The Uniya way was not to berate or debate, but to respectfully dialogue," she said.

Referring to the Uniya legacy, Sr Fawkner said "it seems to me that within our Church where there should be a multiplicity of voices, because of stretched resources, the diverse voices that are the sign of an adult, vibrant church are dying or mooted, if not overtly being silenced."

"Where else do we have a church-based organisation encouraging forums about the things that really matter to those made poor or marginalised?" Sr Fawkner asked. "Where do we have the exchange of ideas in the public arena? "

"My last impression is that Uniya was never about Uniya. It was never about the Jesuits. It was never about issues or ideology. Uniya was about people, about those disadvantaged or made poor by injustice. The organisation might close but I pray that the Uniya spirit may live on," Sr Fawkner concluded.


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