Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is always celebrated on the first Sunday in July.  This year the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are inviting everyone to join them for live streaming of Mass from St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Adelaide at 11.30 am.  You can access this Mass from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) YouTube channel.

This Sunday is a day for us to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in the desire to bring about the hopes expressed in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.  In that statement, Indigenous representatives told us that their:

‘sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or “mother nature”, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty.’

Let’s hope that the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart can help to change hearts, providing a more secure place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the life of the Australian nation.

In our Church too, there is still much to do to forge deeper relationships with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.  Fr Frank Brennan has outlined how the upcoming Plenary Council is already drawing our attention to this very task:

The Plenary Council Discernment and Writing Groups have now issued their series of six Discernment Papers. The group asking how we might be more missionary and evangelising have said: ‘Nationally, we must forge deeper relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, oppose any prejudice, and actively work for reconciliation. This discernment group has laid down the challenge: ‘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.’

Another discernment group, asks how we might be more inclusive, participative and synodal, including ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics, who have not been well treated in Australian society and whose culture and spirituality was for so long unacknowledged, even though they have so much to contribute to the wider Church.’ They have proposed that Indigenous ‘contributions and concerns, expressed through the state and territory ministries and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, should be joyfully received and acted upon at local and diocesan levels, particularly in relation to Reconciliation Action Plans, the recognition of language and culture, the identification and appropriate training of future Deacons and catechists, cross-cultural training for non-Indigenous ministers and measures to improve faith formation, employment and mental wellbeing.’

Another group discerning how our Church might be more humble, healing and merciful have spoken of a Church in Trauma. They have insisted on the need for us all to start at the beginning of the trauma in this land. ‘The first roots of our contemporary country Australia were founded in trauma. The double trauma of a penal colony of confinement and punishment meeting the subsequent subjugation of our First Nations peoples has been written into our identity as a nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are one of the most traumatised and disenfranchised peoples of the world. Our Church was present from these earliest times, and therefore carries these disturbing storylines in its history and identity.’ We recall the words of the Uluru Statement: ‘Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.’

We remember Pope John Paul II’s address at Alice Springs in 1986 when he told us: ‘You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. 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.’

This discernment group has said, ‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart continues to echo these sentiments and a deep cry for healing. Humble listening will bring healing for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The principle of subsidiarity is key – the days of others deciding for them must be over. A new and real engagement, standing together in solidarity, is a merciful and humble way to a new pathway of healing.’   Read full text

So let us celebrate this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday and pray for the gift of reconciliation and the courage to take the next step.
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