"We worship in different languages and cultures, yet all one in Christ. This is an immensely enriching experience,” said Dr Jude Long, principal of Nungalinya College, in Darwin (Northern Territory), Australia, as she explored spirituality with indigenous people from across the world this week.

Long helped lead prayers and biblical reflections along with Australian indigenous staff and students at the college as part of a World Council of Churches (WCC) Indigenous Spirituality and Theology Consultation on 27-31 August.

The location of the consultation is especially meaningful as indigenous people in Australia — particularly young people — are over-represented in Australia's justice system. Indigenous Australians account for less than 3 percent of Australia's national population yet they make up more than half of all children in juvenile detention.

The picture is even more stark in the Northern Territory where, in 2015, 97 percent of youth detainees were indigenous. Compounding this is rampant inhumane treatment of people in detention centers, which has this year been defined as a national crisis in Australia.

Not only in Australia but across the world, the theme of the consultation, “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: Shaping Landscapes of Hope Together,” was especially illuminating as people shared their very personal struggles for recognition, survival and the right to exist as distinct and self-determined people within their local context as well as an international one, said Dr Katalina Tahaafe-Williams, WCC programme executive for Mission and Evangelism.

“Being present, hearing the stories from across the world, has given me more hope than ever that the realities of injustice indigenous people face can be changed through spiritual practices and theological beliefs that bring us together on a path toward justice,” she said.

On one hand, the consultation starkly illustrated that Indigenous people experience continuing injustice through colonization, political oppression, economic exploitation, violence against women and children, and landlessness.

On the other hand, the gathering brought together indigenous theologians from around the world who articulated indigenous spiritual and theological understandings of what a pilgrimage of justice and peace means. “I saw first hand Indigenous participants proactively and strategically planning how Indigenous spirituality and theology can effectively contribute to and impact the ecumenical movement now and into the future.”

As participants met in small groups, they shared stories of their history and, together, they considered questions such as: How do we heal? When do we forgive?

The consultation is the first of a series intended to inspire and strengthen the building of indigenous people’s ecumenical networks, both regionally and globally.

“Injustices against indigenous people are unacceptable, in all places and all contexts,” said Tahaafe-Williams. “We have gathered here to issue a worldwide call for renewed political and humanitarian effort and commitment to make justice a reality for all.”

Indigenous spirituality to enrich and transform the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace (WCC press release of 15 August 2016)

More information about the WCC Indigenous Spirituality and Theology Consultation, 27-31 August

WCC Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples

WCC Mission from the margins

WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace