November 2016 marks 30 years since (now Saint) Pope John Paul II issued his ground breaking address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Blatherskite Park, Alice Springs.
On 29 November 1986, the Holy Father told the indigenous community, “Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost”.
John Lochowiak, Chairperson of NATSICC, described the occasion, “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 in 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.”
Bishop Eugene Hurley, Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, said, “It is appropriate that we celebrate and observe the thirtieth anniversary of the visit as we prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Advent. As with both, the theme is one of hope and rebirth.”
It is an opportune time to remind us of the important words of Pope St John Paul II, ‘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’.”
To commemorate the event, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), in conjunction with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will host a national day of celebration on 27 November 2016.
Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, Apostolic Nuncio in Australia, and Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Archbishop of Canberra & Goulburn, will celebrate a national commemoration Mass at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Canberra on Sunday, 27 November at 11am. All are welcome to attend.
The ACBC, Bishops Commission for Relations with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, has created a prayer card to mark the commemoration. You can download the prayer card from the ACBC website or purchase large batches from the ACBC Shop.