A very warm welcome, endless hospitality and a buzz of energy marked the 60th anniversary of the Australasian Catholic Press Association (ACPA), celebrated in the Diocese of Broome last week, 8-11 September.
From the bishop to the diocesan staff, the elders to the missionaries, the people of Broome ensured that every journalist and communications specialist was made to feel welcome and encouraged to learn about this unique part of Australia during the annual conference. Local support and generosity was in abundance to help ACPA celebrate its diamond jubilee.
The 35-degree days of warmth and humidity gave the event a tropical feel with delegates donning their shorts and hats for the conference excursions. Professional cameras and iPhone selfies were in abundance during a visit to Broome’s famous Cable Beach to watch a sunset.
Travelling along dirt roads on ‘the red earth’ was an experience that most delegates will not forget. Arriving at remote communities where Aboriginal culture is alive and strong highlighted the relevance and breath of the conference theme ‘My Family, My Church’. This is a place where the extended family is one of the sources of survival and vibrancy for many of Broome’s Aboriginal communities.
Reflecting on the significant role of the church in the Kimberley region, Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders said, ‘this has been a Church of the people and with the people. One, I am happy to say, that is unashamedly poor in material goods but rich in the wealth of its generosity towards others and in its affinity with gospel values’.
Delivering a challenging keynote address at the conference, Bishop Saunders told delegates that ‘Australia is scarred by racism’.
Sadly, ‘from our very beginnings as a colonised entity our treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal and Islander peoples has been atrocious and unspeakable.’
Having chaired the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council for 12 years, the Bishop said, ‘I would contend that our race relations have been so fundamentally tainted by the evil of racism that it has scarred the psyche of this country’s peoples and continues to hinder, even today, our pathway to maturation as a nation’.
He could not think of a better ‘banner or manifest’ under which to mount a concerted effort against racism than ‘under the banner of the Gospel itself’.
‘The service of the Church in the Kimberley has so often been a countersign to those forces that have exploited local indigenous peoples’.
‘It has stood openly in opposition to the power of racism, which along with greed is the engine room that drives the exploitation of peoples and excludes them from just participation in the common wealth of the region’.
Over many years, the Kimberley region has been blessed with the arrival of missionaries from a variety of backgrounds, ‘all of whom have added to the splash of colour which is the Kimberley Church. Each of them has been a dot as adding to a dot painting, and together all of them have contributed to a pattern and a story that is rich in the telling and compelling in its entirety,’ Bishop Saunders said.
The conference program included a visit to the Sisters of St John of God (SSJOG) Heritage Centre. The sisters have worked in the Kimberley region for over 100 years. Many of the sisters travelled from County Wexford in the South East of Ireland. Like other missionaries, the SSJOG were leaders of their time and pioneers of infant health during the difficult times in 1960’s and 1970’s. They provided nursing care to many of Broome’s Missions because of the alarmingly high rate of Aboriginal infant mortality. Sister Josepha, affectionately known as Sr Jo-Jo, was asked by the state Government to run the first Infant Health Clinic in the North West. She opened the Clinic in 1959, bringing with her more than 25 years of nursing experience in the Kimberley.
Sr Pat Rhatigan told delegates about the generational impact of the Stolen Generation and Hansens Disease on families and communities. Hansens Disease is also known as Leprosy; a chronic and long lasting infection caused by bacteria. Wandering through the SSJOG museum, it is incredible to hear the native Aboriginal people talk about the generosity, care and love the Sisters provided to families and in particular to children in need.
At the museum entrance, a quote from Mother Antonio O’Brien, leader of the first nine Sisters of St John of God at Beagle Bay Mission in June 1907 reads, ‘remember, the natives did not ask us to come. We are here of our own choice and can only remain by their goodwill and the grace of God’. Mother Antonio never talked of the missionaries’ goodness to the Aborigines, only of the people’s great kindness to the sisters, and of the gratitude owed to the locals on that account.
During the conference presentations, Patrick Dodson, a national Aboriginal leader and Yawuru man from Broome, shared stories about the region’s Aboriginal communities. He focused on the importance today of family, church and growing our native community. ‘We have a narrow view of family’, he said. ‘We must be challenged to see the family beyond our nuclear/immediate family. We must think about the idea of kinship. The extended family relationship is based on kinship and this has a way of connecting people, irrespective of the society you have been raised in.’
The Bishop of Broken Bay and chair of the Australian Catholic Media Council, Peter Comensoli, joined a panel discussion with Catholic journalists and editors exploring how Catholic publications can better communicate with families.
Assessing the value of a pearl based on a number of features such as its lustre, colour, shape and size became the topic of conversation on the bumpy bus journey home from Willie Creek Pearl Farm. The excursion included a lesson about the processes involved in pearl farming today from the seeding of an oyster to the harvesting and grading of a pearl for sale.
Delegates were warned to watch out for the crocodiles during a boat ride across Willie Creek to see the long floating lines in the ocean where oyster panels hang to help the growth of a pearl over a one to three year period before harvesting.
In marking the 60th anniversary of ACPA, Bishop Saunders celebrated a special Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral. In the 1960’s, the original old timber and iron church was replaced with a new Cathedral made from prefabricated materials shipped from Perth to Broome. The altar is made of hundreds of pearl shells. The Cathedral was alive with singing during the conference Mass. Integrating Aboriginal spirituality, the ‘Our Father’ was sung with clapping during the chorus.
Amongst the highlights of the conference program was the annual dinner and awards for excellence. The winners of the three main categories were Eureka Street for ‘best online publication’, The Swag for ‘best print magazine’, and the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn’s Catholic Voice for ‘best print newspaper’. From these three winning publications, Eureka Street was presented with the Bishop Philip Kennedy Memorial Award for Overall Excellence in a Catholic Publication
During the AGM on 11 September, outgoing ACPA President, Annie Carrett, said, ‘we have celebrated in a way that speaks to the heart of ACPA, finding inspiration and support for the challenge we face by building strong friendships and connections across our broad ministry’.
‘We are communicators; we give people the words and thoughts to move deeper into their own faith.’
Full details of the award recipients and winning citations are available in the ACPA awards booklet: http://pub.lucidpress.com/ACPAbooklet/
The ACPA Executive received three welcome messages to celebrate its 60th anniversary. The messages came from Mgr Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications: https://youtu.be/sr7mL7y2xmQ, Bishop Christopher Coyne, Bishop Burlington Vermont and Chair of the Committee on Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): https://youtu.be/47d7sZUIES0 and Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand: https://youtu.be/a3E15SkgTl0