The two days are significant in that they are the dates of two very important events in Australia’s history, the holding of the 1967 referendum extending citizenship to our indigenous people and the Mabo decision of the High Court on 3rd June 1992.
Last Tuesday, National Sorry Day, saw the first of what will be an annual celebration of the presence and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, teachers and support staff in our Catholic Schools across the diocese.
Held in Sacred Heart Cathedral and presided over by Bishop Bill Wright the liturgy was a celebration of the culture of our indigenous peoples as part of our Catholic community.
A moving part of the liturgy was the procession of all present who brought to the foot of the sanctuary a stone they received on entering the cathedral. This was a symbolic action of giving away a coldness of heart in relation to our indigenous people and embracing the meaning of reconciliation.
Another aspect of the liturgy was the representation of the various Aboriginal tribes who have lived in the area we know as the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle for thousands of years. The representatives of the, Gamilleroi, Wanarua, Wiradjuri, Darkinjung, Biripi, Worimi and Awabakal nations brought gifts of fire, water, earth, plants, seeds, berries, eagle feathers, coal and a message stick to the beautiful sacred space beside the cathedral’s altar.
Aboriginal students also participated in the various readings and prayers of the faithful as well as in the smoking ceremony that began the liturgy. View a gallery of images from the liturgy here.
The theme for National Reconciliation Week this year is “It’s Time to Change it Up”, encouraging us all to ensure that we endeavour to change entrenched attitudes and prejudices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
I was made aware of this when I was in Europe recently and a group of tourists were discussing the age of some of the buildings we had visited and one commented that we didn’t have such a history in Australia. It was a Canadian amongst the group, who had lived in Australia for a couple of years, who responded that we have a rich Aboriginal history and heritage. Too often we take for granted that our history commences in the 18th century when it has really been around for tens of thousands of years.
Another feature of the celebration on Tuesday was the performance of an Aboriginal dance group from St Joseph’s Primary School Taree who demonstrated their enthusiasm and passion for their culture and heritage. This group is, I believe, in constant demand from community groups in Taree as they represent their culture so well.
I hope that in the remainder of this week we will focus on taking steps to ensure that reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters continues to be a feature of the life of our Catholic schools.