The Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has expressed its solidarity with Australia’s Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commission met as part of the recent biannual plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, held using video technology.
“We have been fortunate in Australia in being able to contain the COVID-19 virus so far and our Indigenous communities have been protected,” said Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, chairman of the Bishops Commission.
“However, we must continue to be vigilant as Australian society begins to open up the lockdown. Our remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities went into lockdown before the rest of the community because they represent some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Bishop Macbeth-Green continued: “In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have much higher rates of chronic disease than the rest of the community, which places them at greater risk in the event of pandemics.
“As Australia begins to relax lockdown restrictions, we encourage the Government to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders to maintain safeguards so as to protect these communities from any second wave of COVID-19 infections.”
The Bishops Commission also acknowledged the resilience of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Many communities, families and individuals have been proactive in trying to ensure the safety of their families and communities.
They have done that by having an increased focus on hygiene, calling for and administering community isolation, trying to engage with governments, and caring for the vulnerable people in their families and communities.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), with members in every state and territory, has worked to support communities across Australia. The Council has collated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-focused COVID-19 information and distributed it to community leaders.
“We think educating people and explaining the situation clearly is very important and we hope the information we have provided is helping,” said NATSICC chairperson John Lochowiak.
“Our Elders are taking this situation very seriously. We are calling on the younger people to do the same to protect our Elders — who are the custodians of our knowledge and culture.”
One of the mantras of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia has been “We are all in this together”. The Bishops’ Commission assured the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that “in these difficult times, take heart in the fact that you are not alone”.
Bishop Macbeth-Green said: “God is your refuge in times of distress. Be assured of our prayers for you all. May our prayers and the prayers of all people of good will lead to actions that will strengthen solidarity and lead to reconciliation.”