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NAIDOC Week celebrations deepen the faith with rich culture, language and connection to land

Cultural call: Fr Gerry Hefferan, who celebrated the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral, is with members of the Nyri-Tulka dance group Joel Jerome (back left) and Isaiah Landers (back right), and (front from left) Colin Jerome, Lleyton Landers and William Clevens. Photo: Tony Robertson

THE ancient sounds of didgeridoo and clap sticks – not a church organ – broke the silence in Brisbane’s St Stephen’s Cathedral for the start of midday Mass last Sunday.

And a group of young male Aboriginal dancers and Torres Strait Islander drummer accompanied the entrance procession.

They, along with Indigenous people from around Brisbane, were there for the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Mass, celebrated at churches throughout Australia each year on the first Sunday of July.

It heralded the start of NAIDOC Week from July 7-14.

The name of the Aboriginal dance group – Nyri-Tulka (Coming Together) – connected with this year’s NAIDOC Week theme “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future”.

Murri Ministry co-ordinator Ravina Waldren, in an introduction to the Mass, said: “Today we celebrate our survival and acknowledge our survival over 60,000 years.”

The Mass also celebrated the anniversary of some key events in the Church – the 175th anniversary of the first baptisms of Catholic Aboriginal people in Queensland, the 150th anniversary of an Australian Catholic bishops’ statement relating to Aboriginal people, and the 30th anniversary of Brisbane Catholic Education’s Ngutana-Lui Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies Centre at Inala.

The first baptisms of Aboriginal people in Queensland happened on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island).

Fr Gerry Hefferan, who celebrated the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mass in St Stephen’s, said the Catholic community on North Stradbroke Island had celebrated the anniversary earlier in the day.

In his homily, Fr Hefferan said Pope Francis on June 24 in a meeting with Australia’s Catholic bishops during their Ad Limina visit to Rome, spoke about, among other issues, “the inclusion of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers”.

“More than 150 years ago this year, the Australian Catholic bishops at a provincial assembly spoke of the rights and the dignity of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters …,” he said.

In that 1869 statement, the bishops said: “We have dispossessed the Aboriginals of the soil … In natural justice, then, we are held to compensation …”

In the spirit of the NAIDOC Week theme to “work together for a shared future”, Fr Hefferan in his homily reflected on his own experience of relating with other cultures.

“I find – and we can all differ – but I find that when I listen to another culture, we need to do it in humility so that my eyes and my ears will be open to what is before me,” he said.

“And, for all Australians, as we acknowledge in a very special way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and languages, the richness of their contribution, and if we really want to come near, we need to humbly listen and watch and understand … 

“Thank you to our sisters and brothers who help us in the Eucharist today to understand this meaning in our land, with Jesus truly present.”

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