Sunday, July 06, 2008

Celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday

Today the Church calls us to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. In 1955, the first Sunday in July became known as Aborigines Day. Since 1940, this had been celebrated on the first Sunday before the Australia Day holiday and was known as "Day of Mourning" Aboriginal Sunday.

In 1957, the National Aborigines' Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed. It was during this year that Aboriginal Pastor, Sir Douglas Nicholls, persuaded the NMCA to nominate the second Sunday in July as a day of remembrance of Aboriginal people and heritage.

Torres Strait Islander people were included in 1991 and NADOC became “NAIDOC”. This term is widely used today to refer to the week of special events and celebrations held each year between the first and second Sundays in July.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is now celebrated on the first Sunday in July at the beginning of NAIDOC Week.

Today I celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday with the members of Brisbane's Murri Ministries at an Ecumenical Prayer service at Musgrave Park. The service was conducted in traditional evangelical style with lots of communal singing, great prayers from the pastors, a Scripture teaching with kids and dogs running everywhere.

It was an honour to be with the First Nations people of my country and to share a spirituality that comes from the experience of suffering and exploitation. As a Catholic I treasured the opportunity for communion in the Word proclaimed, the gathering and shared eating.

We sang those choruses that only a people of deep suffering know how to sing. There was no need for any Palestrina or Father Faber in this place.

Our Church has a long way to travel on the Journey of Healing and I came away from the service with the words of Pope John Paul II ringing in my ears:

“You are part of Australia and Australia is 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.”

I was struck by the fact that none of the three catholic discussion forums to which I subscribe made any mention of this event. I wonder what it tells us of the priorities of those who engage in public debate about the direction of our Church?

Catholica Australia Forum

Rayner's Forum

CathPews Forum

Perhaps Catholics are still coming to terms with the milestone Bishop Heenan refers to in his introduction to the Liturgy resources for this day:

This year, 2008, will go down in the short history of our Australian Nation, as one of great significance for on 13 February 2008, the Prime Minister delivered an apology to Indigenous People for all the injuries that they suffered as a result of the European arrival and settlement in 1788. Aboriginal sisters and brothers have told me that for the first time, they have felt that they have been given their rightful place in Australia. They no longer feel excluded but fully a part of Australian Society.

The Bishop goes on to make a point that our relationship with Indigenous people is not an optional extra:

We, as a Church, must …………..ensure that our indigenous sisters and brothers feel welcome in our communities, our parishes and our dioceses. By honouring them in our liturgies or remembering them if they cannot be present, we make a clear statement that we want them to feel they are totally accepted, fully welcome and given the dignity they so richly deserve.

I suspect this “clear statement” is the missing link in our faith community. You only have to go back to the words of Graeme Mundine at the 2006 Commonwealth for the Common Good address to hear that message loud and clear.

If the celebration was overlooked in your community you might like to take sometime this week to use the text of the prayers of the faithful produced for today’s liturgy in your prayer and meditation

We pray for truth, justice and healing of this great south land. May the unfinished business of Indigenous peoples have their voice, equity, and clear paths to move all Australians closer to a reconciled country. WE SEEK THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT

We pay for his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Bishops, Clergy and Religious and all Church leaders. May the Creator guide their wisdom and courage to good decision making. May they inspire and lead the world in love and peace for all. WE SEEK THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT

We pray for the World Youth Day pilgrims and travelers. May the celebrations be guided by the Creator Spirit to lead them to love, peace and joy in their travels in Sydney; and safe journey home. WE SEEK THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT

We pray for the sick and dying, the homeless and imprisoned, the weary and lost, and for those whose anniversaries occur at this time. We pray for compassion, healing, wellbeing and protection for those who are suffering. WE SEEK THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT

We pray Almighty God, as your people, we seek the power of your Spirit. we bring these prayers of needs before you in perfect trust and confidence. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

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