Praise for Aboriginal Catholic leaders
Perhaps one of Australia’s greatest overlooked treasures for over 200 years is our very own First Australians.
Astute Australian commentators now write of the three chapters of our Australian history: the Aboriginal, the European and the Multi-cultural/Multi-Faith. The Aboriginal treasure maybe distinct but they are not a separate aspect of our incredible country’s history.
Yet, given the continuing scandalous statistics regarding aboriginal disadvantage in our land of plenty, it is clear that still so much needs to be done to treasure the place of our First Australians. Generations of excessive and expensive bureaucratic initiatives have not suppressed these horrible statistics.
Even now, our First Australians are continually overlooked or treated with an overabundance of tokenism and patronising stereotyping.
I hope this is not the case within our Australian Catholic communities.
I have always felt that genuine friendship between us all is the first step of overcoming these social gaps.
True friendship would want us to really listen to Aboriginal initiatives to overcome their disadvantage. How many of us have truly become friends with Aboriginal people?
The Catholic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia now are numbered at over 133,000 and are growing fast. So many are making a great contribution to Australia and our Catholic Church. They offer us all great opportunities for friendship on the local level.
Personally, my own life both as an Australian and a bishop has been immeasurably blessed by such friendships. For example, for six years I had the pleasure of being a member of the Australian Bishops Conference Commission on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. A few times every year we met with Aboriginal Catholic leaders. Then, every three years or so, we would all gather for a larger conference in some place in Australia.
It was on one of these conferences I met the recently deceased Ngugi Elder from Stradbroke Island, Queensland, (Aunty) Joan Hendriks.
She certainly was a Holy Spirit filled indigenous woman. So many of the characteristics of biblical leadership were found in her. There was a closeness to God, her people, creation and her rich Catholic faith. She was also so humble as she guided us around Stradbroke Island and shared with all its long Aboriginal cultural history. Finally, as she explained the immense challenges her people experienced on a daily basis, she clearly was a great burden-bearer for others, in imitation of Jesus.
Yet (Aunty) Joan Hendriks is one of so many wonderful Catholic indigenous leaders I have met. So many, please God, I have still to meet. When I leave their presence I feel I have not only become a better Catholic but also a better Australian!
In this continuing terrible Covid-19 time we are all enduring, let us be given hope by the truly heroic Australians we meet along the road of life we share, most especially our from our First Australians. They inspire us at a time of great fragility.
A final thought. It seems we are at a time when the arrogance of some are even prepared to pull down or deface historic statues of people. I have often noticed the paucity of public tributes to Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Perhaps we could start to discuss what First Australian heroes we might be prepared to raise up statues to honour them.
The incredible life of (Aunty) Joan Hendriks indicates that there is no lack of candidates to consider!
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
7th July 2020