Originally published in Catholic Outlook July 2012
‘Silence of the Bush taught you a quietness of soul’
|Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP was the principal celebrant for a diocesan Mass on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 1 July 2012.|
Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
By Fr Phil Medlin CSsR, Chaplain to CatholicCare Social Services - Diocese of Parramatta.
In this Year of Grace we thank God for the many gifts He freely offers us all. Among those gifts, for us as a nation, are the spirituality and culture of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We are all enriched by, and still have much to learn from, these two aspects of their traditions.
The Year of Grace logo reflects our connection through the use of their artistic tradition while the earthen ochre colours echo our Australian landscape. The logo also symbolises the diversity of peoples and cultures gathered into one Australian community.
Our Diocese is gifted with the most number of Indigenous people in Australia. In 1987, the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry was formed to support Aboriginal people in the newly formed Diocese of Parramatta.
On 30 September 2011, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP blessed the new Aboriginal Catholic Services (ACS) Centre at Emerton. After 25 years of serving the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) community in Western Sydney, the ACS had a home where we no longer paid rent but where we belonged.
We are grateful to Bishop Anthony Fisher OP and CatholicCare Social Services, Diocese of Parramatta for the gift of our new ACS Centre.
This year, a diocesan Mass was celebrated on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sunday on 1 July and was followed by a community lunch.
As ACS, we are inspired by Pope John Paul II’s words: “Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.” (Alice Springs, 29 November 1986)
As the ATSI community of the Diocese of Parramatta, we can offer our Diocese the gift of respect for family. Pope John Paul II said to us: “Your careful attention to the details of kinship spoke of your reverence for birth, life and human generation. You knew that children need to be loved, to be full of joy. They need a time to grow in laughter and to play, secure in the knowledge that they belong to their people.”
Although this sense of family was undermined by government policies where ATSI children have been taken from their parents and placed in white institutions, we still have our sense of family values. These values are very important to us. We want to share them with others.
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders’ sense of family is much wider than just the immediate family. For us our land is our mother. Once again, we want to quote John Paul II: “You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves. You did not spoil the land, use it up, exhaust it, and then walk away from it. You realised that your land was related to the source of life. The silence of the Bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of God’s Spirit.”
As ACS, we welcome all people to our land. When we visit another ATSI land, we ask permission from the local ATSI people.
Our sense of family extends to all our people. We visit our ATSI people in prison. ACS is presently offering programs in our Diocese that will help ATSI people when they get out of prison.
We also attend circle sentencing where ATSI people who have offended are confronted by their elders. This allows for more respect for ATSI lore. We will travel thousands of miles for a funeral, because we have great respect for our dead.
One of our greatest gifts is our sense of art and beauty. Art for us has become a way of life. It helps us face our issues and find solutions to our problems. Each dot, each circle, each colour has special meaning for us. We value our art, because it is helps us to continue on as ATSI people, proud of our cultural heritage.
Once again, we want to share this gift of art with everyone so that our world might have a greater sense of beauty and find meaning life’s struggles. Our art-education has helped many an ATSI inmate in prison prepare for re-entry into society.
Fr Phil Medlin CSsR is Chaplain to CatholicCare Social Services, Diocese of Parramatta.
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Prayer
We offer you our ATSI prayer. We invite you to join us as we say:
Father of all, you gave us the Dreaming.
You have spoken to us through our beliefs.
You then made your love clear to us in the person of Jesus.
We thank you for your care. You own us. You are our hope.
Make us strong as we face the problems of change.
We ask you to help the people of Australia to listen to us and respect our culture. Make the knowledge of you grow strong in all people, so that you can be at home in us and we can make a home for everyone in our land.
(Prayer composed for the meeting between Pope John Paul II and the Aboriginal people in Alice Springs in 1986.)