BISHOP Ken Howell has echoed the words of Pope St John Paul II in calling for a renewed commitment to recognition for and reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The Brisbane auxiliary bishop, speaking at the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral last weekend, said Australian Catholics needed to hear again “those prophetic words that Pope St John Paul II said back in 1986 in Alice Springs”.
“He said, ‘You, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are part of Australia and Australia is a part of you, and the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others’,” Bishop Howell said.
He said the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples “is certainly rich and long – one of the most ancient cultures on Earth”.
“Yet it seems that so many Australians have very little understanding, in the long run, of the culture and many perhaps don’t even know a member of our First Peoples,” he said.
“Did you also know that there are over 133,000 Catholic Indigenous peoples in our land – our brothers and sisters in Christ?
“However, even after over 250 years since the first encounters of Aboriginal people with European settlers, our Indigenous peoples have had to live with an immense amount of uncertainty that has flowed from those early arrivals.
“And all of these years later we know that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples walk a very uneven road that is the way of uncertainty with a tentative future.”
Pointing to a way forward, Bishop Howell referred to the Uluru Statement of the Heart produced in 2017 by Indigenous representatives from around Australia.
“There is a healing that must happen for us all, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls with a deep cry for this healing for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but the kind of healing needed here must come from new attitudes and a renewed understanding of what it means to be able to share the beauty and the dignity that has been gifted to all of us in our common humanity,” he said.
“As we keep saying, we are all in this together.
“Here, humility must shine through, and the basic aspects of this were spoken of in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:25-30) when Jesus praises those who are the little ones.
“These are the people who are teachable and see themselves as needing to grow.
“He’s saying these are the ones who understand His message because they don’t accept the status quo and go along with what everybody else is doing.
“This notion of ‘littleness’ adopted by the little ones that we are to become must bring a new vision to the way we appreciate all the peoples who call Australia home.
“How would our country look, if we believed that the little ones are the privileged interpreters of God’s message and that Jesus’ power for every person is to be found in meekness, in gentleness? “Today, my friends, let’s continue to renew our commitment to recognition and reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and increasing the participation of Aboriginal Catholics and their culture in the life of the Australian Church.
“Let us find stronger connections with our First Peoples Catholics with their wonderful spiritual sense of country and of their custodial relationship for the Earth.”
Ravina Waldren, of Brisbane’s Murri Ministry, during the welcome to the Mass said Indigenous people were “2.8 per cent of the population and with over 60,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living here in Queensland alone, and we are the second-largest archdiocese here in Australia”.
“We need your support,” she said.
“Please, if you can take anything away from this celebration today, get to know an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in your community, your school, your parish, your sports club or your workplace.
“Read about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and support it.
“Invite our people into your church to speak about reconciliation and truth-telling.”