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We must recognise the gift of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the church: Catholics

Catholic bishops have told Catholics around the country that walking alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can help deepen their faith as they learn from the spirituality of our First Nations peoples.

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In a pastoral letter sent in the lead up to NAIDOC Week which starts this Sunday (7 July), the Catholic Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide, particularly in young people, saying,

“Young people often feel alienated and young people in cross cultures can often feel more alienated … For Christians, Jesus came to bring life to he fullest. He is calling us to work together with love and respect, and to never give up trying to find the best way forward away from this tragic and unnecessary ending of life. While there has been many disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people taking their lives, no society is immune from this sad reality. We all need to remember that Jesus who laughs and cries with us is ‘The Way, the Truth and the LIFE.'”

“We need to avoid the trap of trying to ‘resolve’ issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people! We must safeguard the principle of self-determination.”

“We need to avoid the trap of trying to ‘resolve’ issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people! We must safeguard the principle of self-determination,” the Bishops write. “We can walk alongside in loving support but avoid any temptation to come in with quick solutions imposed from the outside.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) has called on Catholics to recognise the “indisputable and irreplaceable role” First Nations people have in shaping the story and identity of the Australian Church.

“We will never become the Church we are meant to be apart from the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This will require a new depth of listening, a genuine appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and their story of encounter with new cultures,” NATSICC writes in its homily (sermon) as part of Catholic NAIDOC Week resources.

“There is amazing faith in Indigenous communities where church and state policies were detrimental to both the culture and the dignity of the human person. Yet, there was an authentic encounter and experience of Jesus that has been passed down from generation to generation.”

NAIDOC Week’s history traces back to an initiative by Aboriginal Christian William Cooper, who asked churches to pray for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on what was then known as ‘Aborigine Sunday’. Today, the week is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and many churches still stop and pray.

“It is time we recognised that we need not only a contribution but also the gift of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the church.”

“We will never become the Church we are meant to be apart from the wisdom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

NATSICC is also paying tribute to Deacon Boniface Perdjert, who they call a trailblazer in the Catholic church and “a man of extraordinary faith”. Boniface passed away on March 18 this year, a deeply respected elder of the Kardu Diminin clan of Wadeye in the Northern Territory and Murrinhpatha language speaker. He was ordained the first permanent Deacon in Australia in 1974, and was present in 1986 as John Paul II addressed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Alice Springs.

“My people existed here in Australia thousands of years before Abraham. In all that time God was working with my people. He worked through their culture. He was saving us, despite our human weakness. He was preparing us for the day when we would see the features of Aborigines in the image of His Son,” Deacon Boniface once said.

“Deacon Boniface, who was 82, blazed a trail for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics to follow as he not only walked between two worlds – Catholic and Traditional – but he also brought them together,” reads the NATSICC tribute.

For the full Catholic resources for NAIDOC week, visit http://www.natsicc.org.au/2019-aboriginal-and-islander-sunday.html

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