As I listened, I heard something that would not have occurred to me if I had not had a sense of what I was planning to write in this week’s message.
My message for this week is on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, which is next Sunday, 5 July, and which usually commences NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee). However, because of COVID – 19, NAIDOC week has been postponed. The theme chosen for this year’s NAIDOC Week is Always Was, Always Will Be. This theme recognises and celebrates that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years. NAIDOC 2020 invites all Australians to embrace the ancient history of this country – a history which dates back thousands of generations.
So, at Sunday Mass, I recognised the hospitality shown to us by the First Nations people as we share this sacred land with them. The theme chosen by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) is Together in the Spirit – Learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:28) – taken from next Sunday’s gospel.
The opening prayer for Sunday’s Mass spoke powerfully to me:
O God, who through the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light,
grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.
Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday and NAIDOC Week remind us of the rich heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and our need to learn from them in a relationship of mutuality.
Over the weekend, I was reading the Plenary Council’s thematic papers and each one begins with the following acknowledgements:
We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the traditional custodians of this great South land upon which we live, pray and work. We honour Elders past, present and future, and thank them for their sacrifice and stewardship.
We commit ourselves to the ongoing work of reconciliation and healing with all communities.
We acknowledge the lifelong trauma of abuse victims, survivors and their families, the failure of the Catholic Church to protect, believe and respond justly to children and vulnerable adults, and the consequent breaches of community trust.
We commit ourselves to fostering a culture of safety and care for children and vulnerable adults.
Our present journey begins with acknowledgement, and then with a commitment. In the video, to be found on the NATSICC website for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, (https://www.natsicc.org.au/2020-atsi-sunday.html), the Chairperson of the NATSICC, John Lochowiak, speaks about the aboriginal welcome to Country and acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land by saying that “once we welcome you it shows that we have a duty of care to make sure you are taken care of and this brings us closer together as a society.”
There are presently over 130,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia from 250 language groups. It is important that we walk together in the spirit.
The following words can be found in the How is God calling us to be a Christ-Centred Church that is Missionary and Evangelising thematic paper (p12):
Nationally, we must forge deeper relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, oppose any prejudice, and actively work for reconciliation. As Pope St John Paul II stated in 1986:
Dreamtime legends speak powerfully of the great mysteries of human life, its frailty, its need for help, its closeness to spiritual powers and the value of the human person. They are not unlike some of the great inspired lessons from the people among whom Jesus himself was born. It is wonderful to see how people, as they accept the Gospel of Jesus, find points of agreement between their own traditions and those of Jesus and his people.
Then on page 17 the following question is asked, and a response is given:
How can the Catholic Church in Australia authentically embrace and nurture the culture and spirituality of First Nations peoples?
The Church in Australia must be shaped by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and spirituality for it to be authentically a Church of this land. When the Church sinks its roots deep into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, it will authentically be a Church in the land with a new vision and energy for mission.
As Pope St John Paul II said to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, “...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...”
The following four proposals can be found on page 18:
- That clergy, parish volunteers, staff and leaders across all Catholic institutions undergo cultural competency training.
- That the Church, in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics, make a statement recognising the important place of First Nations peoples and commit to developing tangible mechanisms to further embed the rich culture and spirituality of Australia’s first peoples in the life of the Church.
- That National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) Acknowledgement Plaques be installed in all churches and schools.
- That NATSICC, in partnership with the National Liturgical Commission, lead the incorporation of appropriate aspects of First Nations peoples’ spirituality into liturgical celebrations, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday.
I hope that National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is celebrated in each of our Mass communities this coming Sunday. I invite each of you to try to access a copy of the July edition of Aurora which features many aspects of the stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live and work in our diocese. If you are unable to get a hard copy, which comes out in the Newcastle Herald, next Saturday 4 July, then please go online to mnnews.today to download a copy of these many wonderful stories.
Please also consider attending the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Celebration Mass which will be livestreamed from Adelaide’s St Francis Xavier Cathedral at 11.30am (EST). Details at www.natsicc.org.au
I will finish this week’s message with the Prayer of the Aboriginal People found in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Resources (Page 18):
PRAYER OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLE
Father of all, You gave us the Dreaming,
You have spoken to us through our beliefs,
You then made Your love clear to us in the person of Jesus
We thank You for Your care.
You own us, You are our hope.
Make us strong as we face the problems of change.
We ask You to help the people of Australia to listen to us and respect our culture.
Make the knowledge of You grow strong in all people,
So that You can be at home in us and we can make a home for everyone in our land. Amen
(Prepared by Aboriginal people for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Alice Springs 1986)