Our songs, our stories, our paintings, our dances, our languages, must never be lost, no matter the tradition.

This has been a difficult week for many people at home in Australia, and in Israel and Palestine. I did hear someone say on one of the news broadcasts that it is a time for silence, for mourning and for healing. I am sure that what affects one of us affects all of us in our global village. Some of us are feeling distressed, sad, weary, and discouraged.

In our recent travels, I was disturbed by the plight of the many indigenous people in the countries to which we travelled. While I accept that colonisation has been part of our global history, its impact on indigenous tribal groups has been long-lasting. In losing their community, their language, their land and their culture, they have lost their identities and their sense of belonging and connectedness. Many live in poverty and scrape to make ends meet. This is both disturbing and confronting because the problems caused by dispossession and displacement are complex and there is not a one size fits all resolution.

I attended two gatherings through the week, one at Civic Park with the Newcastle Jewish Community for an “Evening of unity and solidarity – Torah, Prayer and Charity” and the other was an online prayer gathering with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC)for the Referendum. Both prayer gatherings were filled with people who were united in praying for peace, solidarity, and unity. They gently offered prayers to a God of mercy, compassion, justice, healing, and hope. Those gathered held to the belief that we and the world are loved by God, and that God’s desire for us is peace and harmony.

I know that previously, I have spoken about the address of John Paul II to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples in Blatherskite Park, Alice Springs, 29 November 1986. This is nearly 40 years ago. The full address is here: John Paul II Address.

Here are some of the profound words spoken by him, which I believe are still applicable:

Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost. (n.3)

In the same paragraph, he quoted the words of Pope Paul VI when he visited the Aboriginal people in 1970:

“We know that you have a lifestyle proper to your own ethnic genius or culture – a culture which the Church respects and which she does not in any way ask you to renounce... Society itself is enriched by the presence of different cultural and ethnic elements. For us you and the values you represent are precious. We deeply respect your dignity and reiterate our deep affection for you".

In the NATSICC prayer gathering on Friday, the following words from John Paul II’s address were used:

Take heart from the fact that many of your languages are still spoken and that you still possess your ancient culture. You have kept your sense of brotherhood. If you stay closely united, you are like a tree standing in the middle of a bush-fire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn. The time for this rebirth is now! (n.8)

I imagine that for many Aboriginal people this is now how they are feeling, and I now share with you the words at the end of Pope John Paul II’s address:

In the new world that is emerging for you, you are being called to live fully human and Christian lives, not to die of shame and sorrow. But you know that to fulfil your role you need a new heart. You will already feel courage rise up inside you when you listen to God speaking to you in these words of the Prophets:

"Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine. Do not be afraid, for I am with you".

And again:

"I am going to... gather you together... and bring you home to your own land... I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you... You shall be my people and I will be your God". (n.13)

With you I rejoice in the hope of God’s gift of salvation, which has its beginnings here and now, and which also depends on how we behave towards each other, on what we put up with, on what we do, on how we honour God and love all people.

Dear Aboriginal people: the hour has come for you to take on new courage and new hope. You are called to remember the past, to be faithful to your worthy traditions, and to adapt your living culture whenever this is required by your own needs and those of your fellowman. Above all you are called to open your hearts ever more to the consoling, purifying and uplifting message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that we might all have life, and have it to the full. (n.14)

These words still hold relevance and could be spoken today. We are seeking a way forward for a deeper understanding, for repentance, for healing and action. How long does change take?

As part of Friday’s prayer, there were words for “We cannot say the Our Father”. I was unable to find those words but came across the following which I believe reflect the sentiment of Friday’s prayer and of our praying the Our Father:


I cannot say Our, if I live in a watertight spiritual compartment; if I think a special place in heaven is reserved for my denomination.

I cannot say Father, if I do not demonstrate the relationship in my daily life.

I cannot say which art in heaven, if I am so occupied with the earth that I am laying up no treasure there.

I cannot say hallowed be Thy Name, if I, who am called by His name, am not holy.

I cannot say Thy kingdom come, if I am not doing all in my power to hasten its coming.

I cannot say Thy will be done, if I am questioning, resentful of, or disobedient to His will for me.

I cannot say on earth as it is in heaven, if I am not prepared to devote my life here to His service.

I cannot say give us this day our daily bread, if I am living on past experience, or if I am an under-the-counter shopper.

I cannot say forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us, if I harbor a grudge against anyone.

I cannot say lead us not into temptation, if I deliberately place myself, or remain, in a position where I am likely to be tempted.

I cannot say deliver us from evil, if I am not prepared to fight it in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.

(M.W Gass Can I say the Lords Prayer )

To say this prayer honestly will cost everything.

The following powerful words are in my heart as we move into this week:

  • Dadirri – inner deep listening and quiet still awareness and waiting
  • Makarrata – the coming together after a struggle
  • Synodality – walking together in respectful listening and dialogue

And this takes me to the Collect prayer for last Sunday:

May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.

Our songs, our stories, our paintings, our dances, our languages, must never be lost, no matter the tradition.

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Teresa Brierley

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