Over thirty delegates from the Brisbane Archdiocese attended Dreaming from the Heart, a gathering in Alice Springs organised by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) to mark the twentieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Indigenous Australians in Alice Springs.
They joined over six hundred Indigenous and non-Indigenous Catholics from around Australia in a week of prayer, liturgy discussion and reflection focussed on Pope John Paul’s challenge to Indigenous Australians and to the Church.
The gathering opened with a Eucharist led by Bishop Ted Collins of the Northern Territory who had been a bishop for only five months when Pope John Paul came to Alice Springs in his diocese to meet with Indigenous Australians.
Ravina Waldren, Coordinator of Brisbane’s Murri Ministry Team, expressed her delight at the Eucharist and what Bishop Collins said.
”Bishop Ted Collins was here when Pope John Paul II came here twenty years ago and he summed up the spirit of the people as we came here to remember and celebrate this anniversary,” Ms Waldren said.
Bishop Ted shared some wonderful humorous stories about the Pope’s visit,” she said.
“The opening Eucharist was wonderful for me as an Aboriginal woman because there were so many Indigenous people performing important roles in the liturgy,” she said.
“This gathering is important to me because it is a rare opportunity for me to catch up with so many people from around Australia who I haven’t seen for years,” she added.
David Miller, Chair of the Murri Ministry Team’s Management Committee, was deeply touched by the role played by women in traditional communities such as Wadeye.
“It was very touching for me to see so many Indigenous people gathered together,” Mr Miller said.
“What really touched me was the singing in lingo of the Wadeye and Tiwi ladies in the Mass – it brought tears to my eyes,” he said.
Sr Kay McPadden, a Josephite Sister who works with the Murri Ministry Team, was present when Pope John Paul II came to Alice Springs in 1986. She stressed the on-going importance of his message.
“It was just beautiful to be here twenty years after the last time we were here with Pope John Paul, to be here with the people who were here twenty years ago and to appreciate their continuing friendship,” she said.
“It was also wonderful to be here with their children who were caring for the older ones and continuing the hope for justice,” she said.
“The other thing which is important to me is that we are here in memory of Pope John Paul II and, at the same time, in the living reality of Pope Benedict who has shown us that he supports Indigenous people in Australia too,” she said.
“Knowing that Pope Benedict is maintaining the spirit of Pope John Paul means that what we are doing here is not just nostalgia for the past, but something in the present,” she said.
David Reilly, 22 year old Indigenous man from Acacia Ridge was excited about the number of young Indigenous people who came to participate in the gathering.
“This is exciting, seeing so many young Indigenous people like me, and I loved seeing the traditional dancing,” Mr Reilly said.
Archbishop Bathers by who spent the whole week in Alice Springs expressed a hope that the gathering would give a boost to efforts to promote reconciliation.
“Well, it’s been a terrific gathering and I’ve met a number of people who were here in 1986 which was one of the great experiences of my life and I’m delighted to be back here again.” Archbishop Bathersby said.
“I do think that, perhaps, Australia, in general, has gone to sleep about reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. And I think this is an enormously important gathering to try and kick-start that whole reconciliation process again because there is still so much further that we have to go,” he said.
“I’m delighted to be here; it’s one of the great experiences of my life,” he said.
The week was marked by a number of memorable liturgies. Among them was a celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a Healing Liturgy. Jane Ceolin, Executive Officer, Indigenous Education, Queensland Catholic Education Commission, was particularly moved by these liturgies.
“This is a very moving and touching experience for me,” Ms Ceolin said.
“One of the special things has been the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we were literally like a family,” she said.
Evelyn Parkin, a Stradbroke Island woman who ministers to Indigenous people on the island, highlighted the role of women in the gathering and thanked the Church of Brisbane for its support of delegates attending the gathering.
“What impressed me was the women from the communities, especially how they took leading roles in the liturgies,” Mrs Parkin said.
“Even outside the liturgies, they would gather together and sing in their own language,” she said.
“It makes us think about our elders and ancestors who did the same thing,” she said.
“We don’t have it now, but we carry it in our hearts,” she said.
“I love and thank the women from the communities for reminding us of our heritage,” she said.
“I want to especially thank the parishes in Brisbane who have provided us with help to get here for this wonderful experience,” she said.
Gwen Graham, also from Stradbroke Island, made special mention of the prayers led by each State delegation at the beginning of each session of the gathering.
“I loved all the prayers led by the different State delegations; they were just wonderful,” Mrs Graham said.
One of the highlights of these times of prayer came when Ernie Trevaskis from the Rockhampton Diocese encouraged delegates to exchange the sign of peace in a very different way. He asked delegates to tell each other “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” His invitation led to more than five minutes of joyful exchanges between delegates.
Keynote speaker at the gathering was Mark bin Bakar, Indigenous entertainer from the Kimberleys. He spoke powerfully about the Gospel and its call for justice for Indigenous Australians. Mrs Graham greeted his words with great approval.
“Mark touched on every subject that we feel in our hearts, things that need to be spoken,” Mrs Graham said.
During the gathering, the Pass It On Message Sticks which travelled through hundreds of parishes, schools and agencies in every diocese were carried in procession and delegates from each State told the gathering where each Message Stick had travelled and what had been done to remember and act on Pope John Paul II’s 1986 message.
Executive Officer of Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Peter Arndt said that the Message Sticks were an important vehicle for promoting action for reconciliation in the Church.
“We spent a lot of time discussing the importance of the Pope’s message and there is a clear intention to use the Message Sticks in the coming years as a catalyst for action which responds to the Pope’s call for the preservation of Indigenous culture, for dialogue between Indigenous culture and spirituality and the Christian tradition, for support of Indigenous land rights and for effective healing of past hurts,” Mr Arndt said.
The gathering’s closing outdoor Eucharist was led by Bishop of Rockhampton, Brian Heenan. It was celebrated against a most impressive backdrop. As the Mass began the Moon hung high in the sky and wallabies and kangaroos gathered on the hill behind the bishops celebrating the Eucharist.
The next day, a Eucharist marking the twentieth anniversary of the Pope’s visit was celebrated at the site of his meeting with Indigenous people, Blatherskyte Park. The Eucharist was led by Papal Legate, Cardinal Edward Cassidy.
Aunty Joan Hendriks, a Stradbroke Island elder, stressed the deeply spiritual nature of the gathering.
“I hope that everyone who came to this gathering gained some insight into the immense richness of the spirituality of Indigenous people,” Mrs Hendriks said.
Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission is eager to continue its work with Indigenous Catholics to promote work for reconciliation in the Church.
Reflecting on the anniversary Eucharist, the Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the Mass was a fitting end to a memorable week.
“Not everything during the week went off smoothly, but all of us who were a part of this experience will never forget it,” he said.
“We have been renewed in our commitment to spreading Pope John Paul’s message and promoting the Church’s wholehearted involvement in action to bring about reconciliation,” he said.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Charter which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.