ARCHBISHOP Mark Coleridge of Brisbane has given a passionate defence of the rights of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
The Archbishop spoke out in favour of those rights during a homily last Sunday at a Mass to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Church’s presence on North Stradbroke Island.
He was addressing a large congregation which overflowed into the grounds of St Paul of the Cross Church, Dunwich, and which included many of Stradbroke’s Quandamooka people.
It was the anniversary of the opening of Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic mission, and the Church’s first official engagement in Queensland.
In 1843 Archbishop John Bede Polding, whose diocese of Sydney then included Queensland, had sent four Passionist priests to open the mission, but it lasted only three years.
“And yet, one thing that didn’t fail was the desire that drove this mission – not just in the heart of John Bede Polding, the English monk, but in the heart of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Coleridge said in his homily.
“And that’s why I’m here as the Archbishop.
“The mission in one sense failed, but the desire has never failed.
“What do I mean by the desire?”
The Archbishop said it was the desire “that the Indigenous people of this land have every right to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that respects absolutely their dignity as human beings by which I mean sons and daughters of the living God, created in his own image and likeness”.
“In other words, to allow and empower indigenous peoples of this land to shape their own future -no patronisation, no handouts, nobody needing a favour but simply recognising that Indigenous people have rights that are God-given – (these rights are) not given by the state or by the Church.
“They’re given by God, and therefore no-one, nothing, can take them away.
“So, brothers and sisters, here on the island 170 years later, you haven’t got the Archbishop of Australia but you’ve got the Archbishop of Brisbane.
“And in that capacity I say that here today at this altar, in the presence of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with Jesus at our side, we rekindle the desire that drove the first mission, the first arrival here 170 years ago – we rekindle that desire in our own heart – the desire that has not died.
“We renew our commitment to honouring the dignity of Indigenous people, not just in words but in actions, that they will be empowered, allowed to shape their own future – the future that God has in mind for them.”
Long-time parishioner Aunty Rose Borey said it was a wonderful celebration, especially to have Archbishop Coleridge attend.
“I’m really so happy,” she said after the Mass.
Aunty Rose said her great-grandmother, who was born on the island, had passed on the Catholic spirituality.
“We can thank our grandmothers (Mibu, Margaret Brown; and Nooninya, Rose Bain) for passing on the faith,” she said.
“Fortunately we’ve had nice people here who taught us the sacraments.”
Cleveland parish priest Fr Frank O’Dea, who has pastoral responsibility for the island community, said after Mass that he wanted to acknowledge the pastoral presence of the diocesan priests on Stradbroke during the 167 years following the original mission’s demise.
He said it was fitting to have six Aboriginal children baptised during the Mass as a symbolic link to those baptised 170 years ago.
“What the Passionists started 170 years ago is still bearing fruit all these years on,” Fr O’Dea said.
Among the eight concelebrants were two Passionists, Fathers Peter McGrath and Paul Meraieca, and chaplain to the Indigenous community Fr Gerry Hefferan.
Students from Star of the Sea School, Carmel College, Dunwich State School and Cleveland State High School attended.