Pope Francis receives landmark Uluru document

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Pope Francis meets, from left to right, Theresa Arbler, Prof Dermot Nestor, Jacqui Remond and Ambassador Chiara Porro. Photo: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets, from left to right, Theresa Ardler, Prof Dermot Nestor, Jacqui Remond and Ambassador Chiara Porro. Photo: Vatican Media

A Sydney academic and proud Aboriginal woman said she was deeply honoured to meet Pope Francis last week and to have presented him with a personal copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is expected to help guide Indigenous policy over coming years in Australia.

The Director of Gweagal Cultural Connections and lecturer in Aboriginal spirituality at ACU, Ms Theresa Ardler, said she met Pope Francis by chance while in Rome to deliver a presentation at ACU’s Rome campus as part of Laudato Si’ Week.

Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Ms Chiara Porro heard Dr Ardler’s presentation and then invited her to meet Pope Francis and present him with a copy of the landmark Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Alongside Ms Ardler at the meeting with the Holy Father was Ambassador Porro, who also acted as a translator, ACU’s Dean of Theology and Philosophy, Professor Dermot Nestor and ACU’s Jacqui Remond who had coordinated the Rome conference in her role with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Ms Ardler said it was a deeply personal moment she will never forget as a proud Gweagal woman.

“I gave the Pope my crucifix which I painted and which was a Franciscan cross and he absolutely loved that”, she explained in an interview with The Catholic Weekly.

“I was so proud that I wore an aboriginal flag at the meeting and I was very conscious too that pope francis has done so much for indigenous peoples around the world”.

“I was so proud that I wore an Aboriginal flag at the meeting and I was very conscious too that Pope Francis has done so much for Indigenous peoples around the world, especially in his own home country of Argentina, where he has stood in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the Amazon region”.

The recently elected federal Labor government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has committed itself fully to the Uluru Statement, which includes a pledge to establish a First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament, to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.

The statement, which was signed in 2017 by 250 Indigenous representatives at a National Convention, also calls for the setting up of a dedicated commission to supervise the process of determining a treaty in Australia between governments and First Nations people.

It also raises concerns over the high incarceration rate for Indigenous Australians, saying it has meant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are “proportionally.. the most incarcerated people on the planet’”.

Ms Ardler said she is very conscious of the great personal hardships faced by Indigenous Australians and the tragedy of the stolen generations.

She believes the Catholic Church has a pivotal part to play in reaching those in the community in greatest need and it’s pivotal it continue to play that role.

Theresa Ardler, a lecturer in Aboriginal Spirituality at ACU, meets Pope Francis last week. She presented him with a personal copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Chiara Porro, Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, is centre of photo, and Jacqui Remond from ACU in the background. Photo: Vatican Media
Theresa Ardler, a lecturer in Aboriginal Spirituality at ACU, meets Pope Francis last week. She presented him with a personal copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Chiara Porro, Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, is centre of photo, and Jacqui Remond from ACU in the background. Photo: Vatican Media

“I lost both my parents by the time I turned 18 and I’ve had nothing but absolute support from the Catholic Church, through my educational studies and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the Catholic Church and the support I received”, she said.

Ms Ardler is the Director of Gweagal Cultural Connections, a business that educates school and university communities about the richness of Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

She has worked as a primary school teacher, specialising in religious education and is currently undertaking doctoral studies in Aboriginal spirituality through Charles Darwin University.

In the days leading up to the meeting with Pope Francis, Ms Ardler delivered a presentation, “Caring for Creation- Our Oceans and our Totems Humpback Whales: Song and Cry of Mother Earth”, focused on her personal struggle to protect her ancestral home on the NSW South Coast.

The presentation was part of Laudato Si’ Week, marking seven years since Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on the theme of caring for the environment.

Ms Ardler told the conference, how pollution from household chemicals in South Coast waterways has tragically effectively put an end to traditional fishing practices, around Jervis Bay.

“We have to remember that Pope Francis very much recognised the importance of engaging with Indigenous peoples in implementing the fruits of Laudato Si’ …”

“The pollution in our water is killing our sea turtles and it is no longer safe to drink tap water for people in my community. We have now filed a class action for cultural loss in relation to fishing and gathering of seafood”, she said.

“Sadly, our sea turtles are being poisoned and the hatchlings are not growing enough to enter the sea. So we are working on management strategies to support these beautiful creatures, so they don’t become extinct”.

ACU’s Jacqui Remond praised Theresa’s presentation and her great advocacy for the protection of her ancestral lands and ocean waters.

“We have to remember that Pope Francis very much recognised the importance of engaging with Indigenous peoples in implementing the fruits of Laudato Si’, given the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon were the first peoples he visited after releasing the encyclical in 2013”, she explained.

“It’s very much about encouraging the faithful to see all the beauty and songs and cries of creation that we need to respond to, so that our future generations can enjoy sustainable lives”.

Related Articles: