Celebration of Indigenous faith

By Matthew Biddle

MORE than 300 people attended the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) Assembly last month in Darwin.

Held at Kormilda College from July 2-6, the event brought together people from around the country to discuss faith, culture and spirituality in contemporary Australia.

Throughout the Assembly various workshops and addresses were presented by respected and influential speakers – most notably artist and writer Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann.

Charnwood parishioner Benny Hodges was one of 12 representatives from the ACT who attended the Assembly. He said he was impressed with several aspects of the event.

“The thing that really stood out for me was the way cultural elements were incorporated into the Catholic Mass,” he said. “For example, before we started we had a smoking ceremony. You don’t have that at your normal Catholic conferences.”

During his homily for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on July 5, Archbishop Christopher said many Indigenous people could identify with the experience of Jesus.

“Many of you have experienced, like Jesus, non-acceptance,” he said. “You too have experienced patronising sentiments in attitudes, in statements or in actions by others.”

There is a great need, the Archbishop added, to bring the two traditions of Aboriginality and Catholicism together.

“It’s an enormous challenge to bring Aboriginality and Catholicism together in Australia,” he said. “It is the work of inculturation.

“The essence of the meaning of the word inculturation is summarised in the theme of our National Assembly, ‘The heart of Jesus beats within us all’.

“That is, the encounter with Jesus – the spirit of the living God – leads us on our journey and is in fact the destination of our journey.

“It is Jesus himself, who is the perfect unity between Aboriginality and Catholicism. The closer we come to Jesus the closer we’ll be able to move forward in the challenges that beset us all, but especially our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends.”

According to 2011 statistics compiled by the Pastoral Research Office, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics number more than 120,000 and are the youngest and fastest growing group within the Church in Australia.

The next NATSICC Assembly will be held in Perth in 2018.