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Uniya: a meeting place

Fr Mark Raper SJ

Talk given by the Jesuit Provincial at the closing of Uniya on the 25 May 2007

Since its opening by Fr General Kolvenbach in 1989, Uniya has been a meeting place. “Uniya”, the local name for the first Jesuit mission to Aboriginals on the Daly River in the late 1800s, means “meeting place”.

At the launch of Uniya, Gough Whitlam met with Brother Paul Schulze who introduced himself, naturally, as a Jesuit Brother. “It puzzles me”, remarked our former Prime Minister, “why priests and brothers no longer wear their distinctive clerical uniforms.” Paul, who was never lost for a word when under pressure, responded with gravitas: “It’s time, Mr Whitlam”. For once our fearless leader was lost for words.

That was the time to open. Today is the time to close. Brother Paul referred to a famous election slogan but also echoed the Book of Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…”

Among Uniya’s many roles, let me single out three. Uniya has been a meeting place. Second, Uniya has offered mentoring to young people who wish to learn how to engage in service of the disadvantaged. Third, Uniya has been a cooperative project among many religious congregations.

Uniya offers a meeting place. It has been particularly a Sydney meeting place, although it often acted on a national level. A great range of persons from diverse sectors met because of Uniya and they inspired one another in turn to work together effectively for justice.

Second, Uniya set out to mentor talented young people of faith in the field of social action. The presence of Lisa and Keith O’Neill here tonight brings me to say how proud we are to be associated with your daughter, Elizabeth O’Neill, and how deeply we stand in solidarity of prayer with you at your senseless loss. Uniya and JRS got Liz started, or rather Liz got started from this base, and she went on to great things in public policy and the defence of the rights of others. Many other young people have here found their feet. Deliberately they would not be held long, just long enough for them to light a flame in their hearts and to orient themselves towards the way of justice for our world.

Third, Uniya is a cooperative action by many religious congregations and individual religious who faithfully backed Uniya from the beginning until now. They are too numerous to name. Many are represented here tonight, and we Jesuits thank you all for your solidarity, your generosity and your faithfulness.

Opened in 1989, Uniya went into hibernation at the end of 1999 and re-opened in 2002 with a focus on refugee policy. Uniya now goes into hibernation again. But all does not stop in this office remains called the Uniya centre. Jesuit Refugee Service is still there and is strengthened. With the right task force, a Uniya seminar series could well be activated again. The Province mission remains the mission of Jesus as in Luke’s gospel 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor”. Our goal is always a faith that lives, breathes and does justice. To pursue this mission effectively we must focus our personal efforts, our resources, and our organisations. Accordingly Jesuit Social Service is now asked to work in Sydney and nationally. Moreover, Loyola Institute cannot be truly Jesuit if its adult faith formation is not formation for a faith that does justice. Each ministry that retains the Jesuit name must reflect these characteristics and cooperate to achieve our common mission.

The list of those who could be thanked and appreciated is too long to be finished in one night. But we must clearly state our debt to all the directors, especially the outgoing director, Mary Bryant, and her colleague, Mark Byrne, to whom, along with the Social Ministries Delegate David Holdcroft, has been given the invidious but creative task not just of winding up Uniya, but also of strategising for the continuation of what they value about Uniya. May I also thank the outgoing chair of Council, Sr Libby Rogerson and all who have served with you on the Council of Uniya.

Thank you to all of you and to the hundreds of other friends whom you represent.

Mark Raper SJ
25th May 2007

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