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Struggle for Justice Continues

ABORIGINAL Catholics have yet to take their rightful place in the Church, judging by input to the recent Christ and Culture Indigenous Theology Conference attended by more than 80 indigenous Christians at Noosaville.

Brisbane archdiocese’s Murri Ministry co-ordinator Ravina Waldren made this and other comments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander relations in the Australian Catholic Church at the conference held at Noosaville on July 9 and 12.

The Christ and Culture Indigenous Theology Conference looked at ways to support those involved in evangelising.

It was organised by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC).

Keynote speakers were Anglican Bishop Saibo Mabo of the Torres Strait Islands and World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee member Hera Clarke, from Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Key figures from ministries throughout Australia, ministers, pastors and chaplains from Redfern in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne attended, including NATSIEC executive secretary Graeme Mundine.

Ms Waldren said the same message came through, in varying degrees, for all Christian churches.

In the talk she gave at the conference, Ms Waldren referred to the slowness in implementing recommendations from the 2001 Gathering of the Voices conference in Brisbane.

“The creation of places of healing for Aborigines was one of these recommendations,” Ms Waldren said.

“Many religious orders have suitable places. Why not offer them to Aborigines as The Josephites have done in various places around Australia?”

A major frustration expressed by many of those attending the conference was about the training of Aboriginal ministers.

“We also want to see more of these people employed as ministers once they are trained,” Ms Waldren said.

She said all at the recent conference had agreed that Aboriginal theologians were an important means of reaching the younger generation.

“Such teachers can build on stories that the children have received from their families,” Ms Waldren said.

“Oral history is still very important to Aborigines.”

Ms Waldren said, talking to conference-goers, it was clear the general lack of Church interest in marking a number of key indigenous events in 2007 has hurt many indigenous Christians.

“2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of NAIDOC Week to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.

It was also the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody; the 40th anniversary of the National Referendum on Aboriginal Citizenship; the 10th anniversary of the report on the stolen generations (Bringing Them Home) and the 10th anniversary of National Reconciliation Week.

Ms Waldren said despite some sense of disappointment in failings within the Christian community and its leadership, the conference has provided cause for optimism.

As well as recommendations that more effort be applied to promoting recognition of the spiritual gifts of indigenous Christians, the conference also requested better resourcing for indigenous ministries.

“I gained a lot of appreciation for how well resourced the Murri Ministry is within the Brisbane archdiocese,” she said.

“Murri Ministry appears unique in a local and national sense. The ministry’s freedom of movement within the Church structure seems very advanced.

“I also came to see more clearly the benefit of the Catholic social justice approach which comes right from the grass roots. That’s probably why the Murri Ministry has worked so well.”

Ms Waldren said NATSIEC’s Graeme Mundine was planning to prepare a follow-up gathering in two years to evaluate implementation of recommendations from the conference.

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