NORTH Stradbroke Island Catholic community elder Aunty Rose Borey had every reason to be brimming with pride when she turned up for Mass last Sunday.
Not only was her beloved St Paul of the Cross Church at Dunwich packed for the 175th anniversary of the first Catholic mission to Aboriginal people in Australia, but four of her great-grandchildren were being baptised.
She was pleased, too, that the Passionist Fathers, the order that provided the priests for that first mission which began in 1843, were represented at the Mass.
Provincial of the Passionists’ Holy Spirit Province of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam Fr Thomas McDonough was principal celebrant, and former provincial Fr Kevin Dance was among the concelebrants, along with Cleveland parish priest Fr Ashley Warbrooke, retired priest Fr Ted Houlihan and friend of the Minjerribah community Fr Gerry Hefferan.
Another Passionist Father Peter McGrath, a friend of the North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) Catholic community and founder of the Passionists Family Group Movement who died in March, was remembered in a special way with the Mass being dedicated to him.
That first mission on the island lasted only three years and was deemed a failure by many but that was not what Aunty Rose and others in the community celebrated on Sunday.
“ I never liked people saying the mission was a failure. Look, we’re here today,” Aunty Rose said after Sunday’s Mass.
In the Gospel of the day (Matthew 28:16-20) Jesus said to His disciples, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe the commands I gave you”, and, as it has for 175 years, that was what the Minjerribah community did last Sunday.
They baptised four children – Jamaya Borey, Amarli Borey, Ashiah Borey and Deacon Borey – and had another young parishioner – Braithe Cowell – receive his First Holy Communion.
Fr Dance, in his homily, endorsed Aunty Rose’s view on the assessment of the first mission to Minjerribah.
“Sometimes the mission’s been described as a failure, but we know that that’s not true,” he said.
“Generations, generation after generation, of Catholic leaders have been borne from these first efforts.
“The presence of Aunty Rose and Aunty Joan Hendriks and others – they’re wonderful reminders of this.
“Those first missionaries, their dream, was not able to be achieved in those few short years but the seed of Jesus’ love was sown and in God’s good time it’s grown in the hearts and the lives of the people here.
“Jesus came to show us a better way, and our shared story shouts out that justice is yet to be achieved. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Fr Dance said it was significant that the anniversary Mass was celebrated at the beginning of Reconciliation Week and the previous day was Sorry Day.
“These are attempts to realise the mistakes of our history, so that we remember that our steps forward, though painful, can bring new life,” he said.
Fr Dance offered signs of hope from his 10 years as the Passionists’ representative at the United Nations in New York from 2001.
“I was privileged to be there at the very first of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May 2002, and I was able to take part in the yearly session for ten years that I was there,” he said.
“Kofi Annan, who was then the Secretary-General (of the United Nations), called it an historic moment, and he said, ‘You have a home at the United Nations’.
“It only took fifty-seven years for indigenous peoples to be given a voice and to find a home within the United Nations, so we shouldn’t lose heart. Things just take a time …
“Then on (September 17), 2007, I was in the General Assembly chamber of the United Nations when the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples came for a vote.
“It was resoundingly adopted. There were four countries voted against those rights … United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and …. Australia.
“But, now, every one of those, all four of them, have changed their positions, and now support this really important declaration.
“So these things remind us that change does come but it comes slowly, and often painfully.
“So may the Lord draw us closer, and from the time that we shared together may we draw a little sense of hope that together we can create a new and a better world.”
Aunty Rose said the Catholic community on Minjerribah still had stong ties with the Passionists, and she was particularly pleased that the anniversary Mass was dedicated to Fr McGrath.
She said he had visited the community and even visited some of the people of the community when they were ill.
“He came here a few times and did some lovely Easter services for us,” she said.
“It was just so great to have that memorial for him because of our association with him.”
Members of the Passionists Family Movement attended the Mass.
Five seminarians – four from Queensland’s Holy Spirit Seminary and one from the Passionists – also attended.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council Queensland representative David Miller delivered a blessing from the council.