TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: We Stand On Sacred Ground

I write this week’s message on Sunday night, having returned home, on this chilly night, from Christ Church Cathedral, where there was a celebration of NAIDOC Week.

For this week’s message, I had intended to follow on from last week’s about teams, coaches and captains but I can leave that till next week. I just wish to spend this week paying tribute to the First People of this great land on which we live and which we call home.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. NAIDOC Week celebrations mark the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The theme for this year’s NAIDOC was:

We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn,
Respect and Celebrate

During the week, I opened the resource sent to all parishes from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC). This is a wonderful resource, produced each year and containing ideas and concepts that both reflect and display the spiritual beliefs of the Aboriginal people. The theme highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea.

As the oldest continuing culture on the planet, the living culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is intrinsically linked with these sacred places. These can be geographic features like a river or lake, a beach, bays, inlets, hills or mountain ranges or ceremonial grounds, galleries of rock art or engravings or places used for gathering for cultural practices. Often sacred places are connected with Dreaming stories or tell of the meaning of an area.

In this resource kit there was a statement titled: Solidarity: On the Road to Justice. I found this a powerful read as it spoke of the reality of many of the Aboriginal people who suffer – suicide, car accidents, violence, drugs, lack of good health, dangerous habits, unemployment, incarceration and poor education. It seems as though their lives are surrounded by suffering and negativity and it takes a great deal of energy and resilience for them to overcome the effects of the past two hundred years.

The statement finishes with the following paragraph:

No matter the enormity of the challenge before us, we Australians need to be convinced of the worth of self-determination as a philosophy and a methodology in need of immediate adoption. The present day neo-Assimilationist point of view offers no solution to the task of finding a way forward for Aboriginal Australia. Non-Aboriginal Christians must stand in solidarity with their Aboriginal brothers and sisters, while Aboriginal Christians are called to be determined, not to falter, no matter the obstacles that rise up to make a just way difficult. In faith and through prayer the energy needed to seek justice, to right what is wrong and to find a new, positive way forward is at hand.

I have shared with you several times how blessed we are to live on this amazing continent. And yet there are people in our midst who struggle with their existence. Once again, this week’s readings invite us to be prophets. As Paul reminds us we have been blessed with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, God chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence. We must use these blessings for the good of all people and of the planet on which we live. Clearly this is about relationship with everyone and everything. This is how we are to live the Trinitarian nature of our God.

As I listened to some of the dreaming stories and watched the dancing of the story, I was captured by the indigenous understanding of this intrinsic relationship of everything with everyone. This is what Biame calls the Aboriginal to, and this is what Jesus calls us to. As disciples we are called to this intimacy, and yet we know from the present Sunday readings of Mark’s Gospel that Jesus was rejected and his own disciples were also rejected; “if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.” (Mark 7:12)

We have much to learn from each other and this is done by stopping, listening and sharing stories.

When Pope John Paul II visited Alice Springs in 1986 he challenged Aboriginal Catholics with these words:

...And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.

I leave you this week with the following words from Bruce Prewer which came with the resources to celebrate NAIDOC week. I do hope you have taken the time this week to engage with some people of Aboriginal heritage.

We believe           
That this ancient land,
With all its unique creatures, is a precious gift
From a loving God,
Whose mercy is over all his works.

We believe
In God’s care
For aboriginal people who treasure it
Through unnumbered generations:
The one who grieves in their suffering
And rejoices in every noble aspiration.

We believe
In God’s compassion
For the patchwork of refugees
Who for two hundred years
Have come to this continent
Looking for a place to call their home.

We believe
In God’s steadfast love

For this nation and all its children,
That God is creating a new people
From many races, colours and gifts,
To fulfil a high destiny.

We believe
That the best way forward
Is the way revealed by Jesus,
Of faith, hope and love,
Where no needy person is neglected
And no bidding of the spirit is ignored.

Bruce Prewer

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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