Indigenous Catholics keep the fire of faith burning

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday was celebrated with Mass and a meal at the Reconciliation Church in La Perouse on 7 July. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

It was standing room only at the Reconciliation Catholic Church in La Perouse for Mass on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 7 July, marking the first NAIDOC week since the defeat of the Voice to Parliament Referendum in October 2023. 

Parishes and schools across the country also celebrated the country’s Indigenous peoples, cultures and traditions, and five Catholics were honoured for their outstanding contributions. 

In his homily at La Perouse, celebrant Fr Frank Brennan SJ said that the “unfinished business” of constitutional recognition may now fall to the next generation to accomplish. 

“We’re handing you the baton,” he said, addressing the children in the church, although he said he hoped it would happen sooner. 

He drew on encouragement offered for the work of Indigenous recognition by notable elders Lowitja O’Donoghue, the first chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and lawyer and activist Noel Pearson. 

While the Yes campaign’s post-referendum open letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the country’s politicians showed disappointment and “a lot of anger,” it also offered a sense of hope—expressing faith in an “upswelling of support” for Indigenous peoples, Fr Brennan said. 

“There was a lot of nastiness and bitterness during the referendum campaign [but] we should not be overawed by the naysayers. 

“Now is the time for us all to reach out to our fellow Australians seeking truth, justice and reconciliation.” 

Fr Brennan said he took heart at recent comments from Indigenous leader Professor Megan Davis, who rejected the idea that the Voice’s failure was the result of racism. 

“It would be a mistake to think the country is racist and that no change is possible. Think only of the overwhelming 90-plus per cent result in the 1967 referendum and the genuine delight and pride at the success of an Aboriginal athlete like Cathy Freeman or Ash Barty,” he said. 

NAIDOC Week 2024 - The Catholic weekly
Fr Frank Brennan SJ with parishioners at the Reconciliation Church in La Perouse on 7 July. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

State member for Maroubra Michael Daley and Federal member for Kingsford Smith Matt Thistlethwaite attended the Mass, which was preceded by an acknowledgement of country, blessing of water and the playing of a didgeridoo. 

The congregation prayed the Aboriginal Our Father from the Diocese of Broome’s Mass of the Land of the Holy Spirit, approved by the Australian Catholic bishops in May. 

The theme for this year’s celebrations was “Keep the fire burning: Strong in faith.” 

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Catholic Education Foundation announced two new scholarships to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Year 12, in partnership with the University of Notre Dame Australia, and two bursaries for school-based apprenticeships and traineeships with Bennelong Energy Services. 

Earlier in the week, Lisa Buxton, executive officer of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry addressed the book launch for Fr Brennan’s Lessons from our failure to build a constitutional bridge in the 2023 Referendum and Dr Damien Freeman’s The End of Settlement. 

She said post-referendum there was “devastation, grief within some communities, a sense of hopelessness and frustration. Not just in our communities, I don’t think.  

“People who were allies voting alongside—there’s devastation in non-Indigenous communities, and especially in our Catholic communities. They don’t seem to see a way forward at this point.” 

She told The Catholic Weekly the annual observance at the Reconciliation Church was spiritually and materially enriching. 

“This is an opportunity for us to celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but also incorporate our ways into the celebration of the Mass,” she said. 

She added that Sydney’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry benefits from important collections each year taken at Mary MacKillop Place and North Sydney parish, through an initiative of the Australian Catholic bishops’ National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC). 

“That’s fantastic because it allows us to stock our food pantries here at the church and at our Alexandria office for a couple of months, which is really important because they empty very quickly,” Buxton said. 

This year NATSICC gave community service awards to Mary O’Reeri, an elder of Beagle Bay parish in Western Australia, Maureen Moore, a Wurundjeri woman from Healesville in Victoria, and Eileen Bray and Shirley Purdie of the Warmun Community in Western Australia.  

Religious education teacher Cassandra Auld received a non-Indigenous service award for outstanding dedication and leadership in supporting her community at St Therese Community Parish School in the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes. 

The post Indigenous Catholics keep the fire of faith burning appeared first on The Catholic Weekly.

Your custom text © Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.