Bourke is in the Catholic Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes and it is one of many rural and isolated towns in outback NSW.
In the heart of the Bourke cemetery is the gravestone of Fred Hollows, the much-loved eye doctor who brought so much healing to so many people out west. He was a rascal by all accounts and a fiercely passionate man who cared deeply about people and making a difference. His gravestone is a huge boulder, carved and polished. It sits within a ring of smaller boulders which together form the shape of a huge eye. His headstone forms the pupil of the symbolic eye. It’s a great place to come if your prayer is a request to see more clearly.
I found myself there in the 45 degree heat of last summer as the Royal Commission began its summary of child abuse within the Catholic Church. If ever there was a time we – as Church − needed to see clearly, this is it. It matters now, perhaps more than ever, to be able to see what has happened. It matters now to accompany those who have been hurt and to do what is right and just. It matters now to be able to hold to a vision of how much better it could be.
The people of this outback diocese know, from pay-dirt experience, that the Church of the past cannot always meet the experiences, needs and challenges of the times we live in and the crises we face.
In an effort to help us to see more clearly the diocese is offering Lessons from the Long Paddock. The Long Paddock is the name given to the corridor through which Australian cattlemen and women – drovers − move stock from one place to another. They are the fenced, grassy verges along the side of major roads across the country. Long Paddocks make connections, lead from one place to another, make movement possible, save lives and bring hope. Lessons from the Long Paddock is an online event and conversation to be launched on 6 June. It begins with a look at what really matters at the heart of our tradition.
It dares to ask, what does the experience of the desert outback have to offer our Church in these times? How can the vast emptiness of the bush lead us all back to an experience of the divine? The early Church was born in a land of desert wilderness. Faith in the outback has often been more a matter of finding the life and energy from within the experience itself and hope is part of the psyche because it’s had to be.
The Catholic Church of Wilcannia-Forbes offers the wider Church now a ‘Long Paddock’ corridor of wisdom to be shared so that our conversations together might lead us to see clearly what it is that matters now.
The e-conference, Lessons from the Long Paddock, will be online on 6 June with participants to gain access via the website of the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes. See the address below.
Bishop Columba Macbeth Green, a leader who appeals across the spectrum of the Church in Australia and who has celebrated with ordinary parish communities, charismatic communities, Latin Mass communities and Catholics in both regional and city areas, will run a session titled “Outback Spirituality”.
Keynote speaker Fr Frank Brennan sj will speak about “Australian Spirituality” and I will facilitate a conversation around “Christian Spirituality”.