AN ecumenical spirit of new hope and healing is emerging on Palm Island.
Last November the north Queensland indigenous community hit the headlines after the death of 36 year-old Cameron Doomadgee led to a riot on the island.
The aftermath saw the people of Palm Island come under harsh scrutiny and led to some negative perceptions.
Today, on Aboriginal and Islander Sunday, the community is set to display the spirit of healing that has brought the island’s people together.
Catholics will join with other Christians on the island to celebrate this newfound hope with a parade from the island’s four churches. It will show outsiders the happy, positive and enthusiastic side of the community.
Missionary of the Sacred Heart Father Tony O’Brien said the parade would start at the Catholic church after this morning’s Mass, with parishioners walking to the Anglican church where they will be joined by members of that congregation.
‘Then the combined group will walk to the Gospel Outreach Church, gathering their worshippers, before moving on to the Aboriginal Inland Mission Church and ending in the town centre,’ he said.
‘The underlying purpose is to present a united front against the problems that the community faces.
‘The island has been under the spotlight since last November and the people have felt very offended by some of the portrayals.
‘People have felt very upset and offended by these comments, but now there is new hope and pride on Palm Island.’
New hope has been given to the island’s growing ecumenical movement.
Fr O’Brien, who arrived on the island on January 26, said the ease with which the Christians on Palm Island had embraced ecumenism had surprised him.
He said elders from the Catholic community had raised the possibility of joint celebrations during Holy Week, and while it had not been possible to incorporate such a service at such short notice, it was ‘as easy as could possibly be’ to get the ball rolling afterwards.
‘I went around to the (other Church) congregations and they said they had been praying for something to happen to get things moving towards Church unity.’
Fr O’Brien said the response was to pray together for a couple of hours every week.
Palm Islanders call their new found bond Christians Unite!
Fr O’Brien said the services were a regular Monday night commitment with a rotating roster between the four churches.
‘The service begins with a welcome from the host church, then praise and worship of God.
‘This is followed by free flowing expressions of God’s spirit in sharing and in healings. People have experienced freedom from addictions, forgiveness of sins, new lifestyles.’
Fr O’Brien said there were prayers from the heart for a transformation of Palm Island.
‘We have had full churches.
‘Over the past few months a lot of deep friendships have been formed and the desire for unity is overwhelming.
‘People from 42 different tribes have been put here with no consideration for their cultural traditions or needs. It has been like a penal colony.
‘I think in the past the problems of life have just overwhelmed them.’
Fr O’Brien said on the first Monday of the month ecumenical prayers were held in the Catholic church, the second in the Anglican Church, the third in the Police Citizens Youth Club where the Gospel Outreach community meets, and the fourth Monday at the Aboriginal Inland Mission Church.
‘They tell us they can see a transformation on the island. People are noticing changes in the community.
‘They see it in nature. They see birds that they haven’t seen in years coming back.’
He said the change was also apparent in the people themselves.
‘People have publicly asked forgiveness of neighbours, Church leaders have asked forgiveness of other Churches.
‘The mood among very many people is changing from gloom to happiness, enthusiasm, mutual respect and love, and above all hope.
‘There is a certainty growing that God is transforming Palm Island.’
Fr O’Brien said the ecumenical community had also developed a prayer for and with Palm Islanders.
He said 1500 copies of the prayer had been sent through the St Vincent de Paul Society in Townsville around Queensland and beyond.
Fr O’Brien has asked for prayers to ensure the continued success of the transformation on the island.
Prayer for Palm Island
God we praise you for creating Palm Island as a jewel of natural beauty.
We acknowledge your creation of the Aboriginal race who inhabit Palm Island with magnificent gifts of spirituality and love of nature.
Though they were forcibly placed there, losing their most precious heritage of tribal land, language and culture they have survived.
You are still their awesome God.
They know and love Jesus whose life, death and resurrection they recognise fulfils some of their Dreamtime stories and sustains them in their long distressing history and continues to do so today.
We join them now in pleading to you in 2005 for freedom from the many evils that afflict them.
With them, as one Body of Christ, we cry to you, Jesus Saviour, for healing, for strength, for forgiveness, for guidance and most of all for love.
Restore them as a happy, healthy, holy Aboriginal people.
We are very sorry for the sins committed against them, just as they are sorry for their own failings. We ask for your forgiveness and for change of hearts.
They believe you will restore them. We believe too.
The Church in Australia can never be what Jesus intended unless their contribution is given and welcomed.
Renewing them, O God, is to renew us all.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.