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In partnership with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) offer these resources to assist in preparing a day of celebration on 27
“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."
Relive the words that ignited the faith in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics and resulted in the establishment of Indigenous Ministries across Australia
Jesus spoke directly to the hearts of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people on 29 November 1986 in
Australia’s heart – Alice Springs.
The message was delivered to our
people by his devoted apostle Saint John Paul II. We had traveled along our well worn trade routes from every corner of Australia to encounter God on that day.
As Saint John Paul II spoke, a wind storm picked up the red soil from the Earth and swirled it amongst our people. The dust seemed to intertwine with the words of love, hope and empathy. The message touched our souls and it touched our skin. Never before had we felt so welcome in the house of Jesus The impact of this day on our lives cannot be measured. It provided the encouragement
for the establishment of Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Ministries all over Australia and it lit the fire our hearts which still provides the warmth, energy and strength for us to continue. We now have over 120,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia and the support of our Australian Catholic Bishops on our journey of faith.
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s visit to Australia and we need his words now more than ever - our people have the worst health in Australia as well as the highest incarceration and youth suicide rates in the world. We need rebirth now!
‘Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear… Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.’
‘If you stay closely united, you are like a tree standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn. The time for this rebirth is now!’
‘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.’
‘you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the spirit of God has been with you.’
‘It is wonderful to see how people ... find points of agreement between
their own traditions and those of Jesus and his people ...’
‘For thousands of years this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land, with its animals, birds, fishes, waterholes, rivers, hills and mountains. 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 Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speaks all languages. It esteems and embraces all cultures. It supports them in everything human and, when necessary, it purifies them. Always and everywhere the Gospel uplifts and enriches cultures with the revealed message of a loving and merciful God.’
‘You have learned how to survive, whether on your own lands, or scattered among the towns and cities. Though your difficulties are not yet over, you must learn to draw on the endurance which your ancient ceremonies have taught you. Endurance brings with it patience; patience helps you to find the way ahead, and gives you courage for your journey.’
‘Dear Aboriginal people: the hour has come for you to take on new
courage and new hope. You are called to remember the past, to be
faithful to your worthy traditions, and to adapt your living culture
whenever this is required by your own needs and those of your
It has been 30 years since Saint John Paul II spoke of the richness and pride of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture and at the same time highlighted the injustices and challenges that Australia’s first people face.
Fortunately the richness of culture remain through adversity, unfortunately many of the challenges described in 1986 still remain.
Just as Paul and Barnabas were bringing a message to the Jews of their time, Pope John Paul 11 was also bringing the Gospel message to Aboriginal people; indeed, not only to us, but to all Australians as well. Of course there were some people who did not agree with the Pope’s message, just as there were some Jews who did not listen to the message Paul and Barnabas were offering.
For thousands of years Aboriginal people have lived in this land and fashioned their culture that endures to this day. The Spirit of the Creator has been with us. The ‘Dreaming’ influenced our lives so strongly, that no matter what happens, we remain forever a people that have been touched by the Spirit of the Creator of all things.
The silence of the bush taught us quietness of soul, giving us details of a kinship that spoke of the reverence for birth, life and human generation. We knew that children needed to be loved, and to be full of joy. They need a time to grow in laughter and to play, secure in the knowledge that they belong. We had great respect for the need of law, as a guide to living fairly with each other. So we created a legal system – very strict it is true; but it made our society orderly; the reason our culture survived, 60,000 years or more, longer than any culture in the world today. Ceremonies of discipline for young men and women taught them responsibilities as they came to maturity. It is amazing to see how, when the gospel was accepted, there were many points of agreement between our Aboriginal traditions and the traditions of Jesus and His people. Past hurts cannot be healed by violence, nor are present injustices removed by resentment. The Spirit of forgiveness and compassion is the only key to resolving these hurts.
If we stand closely united we become like a tree, standing in the middle of a bush fire sweeping through the timbers. The leaves are scorched and burned, and the tough bark is scarred, but inside the tree, the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong.
A new world is emerging for us, and our contribution must be fully and joyfully received by all Australia.
We must have the courage to listen to the words of the Spirit:
“Do not be afraid I have called you by your name, you are mine…
I will give you a new heart, and new hope; you shall be my people, and I will be your God,
and shepherd you into the future, so that you all might have life…
in your own land, and have it to the full.”
We must have courage!
• Attend the major celebration Mass at your Cathedral on 27 November
• Using the Liturgy resources included, prepare a celebration Mass in your Parish or School
• Download the NATSICC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Slideshow and present it to the congregation before or after Mass. The slideshow highlights the gifts that Australia’s first people bring to the Catholic Church in Australia
• Host an evening prior to 27 November (or on the evening of) where Saint John Paul II’s speech is viewed in its entirety. Hold a discussion about the elements touched upon and its relevance today.
• Invite members of your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to attend Mass in your Parish
• Include quotes from Saint John Paul II on your website, Mass booklets and newsletters
Celebrating the day
Includes homily notes, classroom activities and liturgy suggestions
Full transcript of Saint John Paul II at Blatherkite Park - 1986
2006 Social Justice Sunday Statement
THE HEART OF OUR COUNTRY Dignity and justice for our Indigenous sisters
The Pope in Alice: 25 years on
A Eureka Street article written by Fr Frank Brennan in 2011 reflecting on progress in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs
Saint John Paul II Resource - Archdiocese of Melbourne
The Closing the Gap report card presented by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball (February 2016) highlights the lack of progress in health, life expectancy, education and incarceration. Across Australia, young Aboriginal people are 26 times more likely to be in detention and are more likely to be incarcerated than attend University.
• Embrace the Principle of Subsidiarity on a personal, Parish, School and organisational level. Subsidiarity requires that decisions are made by the people closest and most affected by the issues and concerns of the community. It also advocates that the individual is sacred. The principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community.
• Read the Closing the Gap Report Card to gain an understanding of the challenges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face on a daily basis
• Host a discussion group in your parish around the issues raised by Saint John Paul II’s address in Alice Springs
• Visit www.natsicc.org.au to find out if there is an Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Ministry in your Diocese and contact them to learn what they do in the Diocese and if you could help them or be part of their educational programs.
• Invite a local Indigenous speaker to address your next club, group or committee meeting on the issues facing Indigenous peoples today.
• Work with the local Aboriginal people to erect a plaque in your school or church grounds or on the entrance to the main building to recognise the traditional custodians of the land.
What can you do?
Produced by NATSICC and the Bishops Commission for relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, this bookmark commemorates the 30th Anniversary of St John Paul II's visit and address in Alice Springs.
Produced on a durable, gloss stock, the card features hand painted crosses on one side and the Prayer of the Aboriginal people on the other.
Buy the commemorative bookmark from $.40 today
Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land is a gesture of Reconciliation, respect and solidarity.
This brochure guides parishes, schools and organisations through the protocols and considerations in preparing an Acknowledgment or Welcome to Country in an easy to follow format.
Buy the Acknowledgment brochure from $.40 today