A BRISBANE parish priest opened his homily at a National Reconciliation Week 2020 prayer service with a challenging statement on racism.
Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan was speaking at the annual Ecumenical Murri Reconciliation Service which was live-streamed from St Joseph’s Church on June 3.
Addressing the congregation (limited to 20 because of COVID-19 restrictions) and the online audience, Fr Hefferan, in keeping with the national theme “In this together”, said they gathered with a “focus on walking together, acknowledging the importance of truth-sharing and truth-telling”.
“As we come together as a community thinking reconciliation with each other, I’d like to read you a quote and invite you to think, ‘Who could have said that, and what’s the context?’”
He read quotes from a statement delivered in the previous week.
“’Racism is a real and present danger that must be met head-on’,” he read.
“’We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life.
“’We serve a God of love, mercy and justice.
“’People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives.
“’Indifference is not an option …’
“Who said those words?” Fr Hefferan asked.
“It was the recent statement on May 29 by the chairpersons of the committees of the United States Catholic bishops.”
Fr Hefferan said the bishops “were reflecting on the United States but we take up those words also to reflect on what’s happening in Australia with poverty, deaths in custody, with still many where communities are not being heard”.
“We come together to be able to sit down and listen to each other, and learn from each other,” he said.
He encouraged parishes of Brisbane archdiocese to consider the recently available 2016 parish census figures.
“I’d like to invite every parish in our archdiocese to look at the census figures and see the numbers of Catholic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in each of our parishes,” he said.
“And we say, ‘How do we continue to recognise each other, to reach out to each other, to listen to each other and to move forward?’
“The Gospel that we have heard … invites us to remember that we have the Holy Spirit as Advocate.
“We have no excuses; the Holy Spirit’s there to empower us.
“All we have to do is open up to the Spirit and we’ll move forward together.”
Murri Ministry co-ordinator in Brisbane Ravina Waldren said there was “so much sorry business in that word ‘reconciliation’ that we need to still address and be reminded of”.
“We’ve come through the Apology Day, we’ve come through Sorry Day, and now we’re into reconciliation and acknowledging Mabo today, but still our people are suffering,” she said.
“We’ve had over 450 Aboriginal deaths in custody over the last 20 years.
“We’ve had a royal commission into the Aboriginal deaths in custody at a cost of over $10 million but still we’re witnessing deaths in custody.
“Nobody has ever been charged for those deaths or been held accountable for the deaths of Aboriginal people, our First Peoples of this nation.
“There has been no compensation for our people; the theft of the land is yet still to be addressed.
“The Stolen Generations – we still hear people crying for the children.
“We’re still bearing witness to the mothers that are living generational trauma.
“We wonder why we have so many people in our prisons …
“There still needs to be justice here in this country, and I think that’s what our people are asking for.”
Ms Waldren said “people should be crying out and saying, ‘Well, what happened with that Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody?’”
“People died to bring about those (commission) recommendations, and that’s the sad thing,” she said.
“But I think we need to hold all those families in prayer – those who are still grieving.
“Every one of our families has been touched by the deaths in custody.
“None of us have escaped that; we’ve all had a member of our families who has died in custody.”
Ms Waldren said she felt “disheartened at times but, as I’ve always said, it’s the young people who give us hope – hope to be able to move to the future”.
“We really want to see young people out there and taking their rightful place during these important times or celebrations, and never ever forget that we’ve still got a black history that needs to be told, and that healing that will come about by listening more to our old people and acknowledging the atrocities across every state here in Australia,” she said.
“I guess, yeah, sure, there is … frustration there, but I always have hope and I believe that we need that hope.”