You are my sister!
It’s interesting how things happen in life. Who would think that the parish I belong to in Canberra would have a strong link with Aboriginal Catholics in Alice Springs.
This week I’m in Alice Springs participating in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) retreat in partnership with the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People (BCRATSIP).
The theme of the retreat is Reconciliation – with God, with others and with the land. Our retreat opened with a welcome to country from two Arrernte Elders followed by Bishop of Darwin Eugene Hurley’s warm welcome to his diocese.
To prepare us for the day, NATSICC members Shirley and Dolly, led us through the open hand prayer. This prayer encouraged us to give, not only this present time to him but to invite God deeply into our hearts and to let God take and give to us what He sees fit.
We were then gently led through a Lectio Divina experience with Bishop Don Sproxton, Auxiliary Bishop of Perth. The scripture chosen was the road to Emmaus and, indeed, our hearts were burning during the plenary sharing time. For me, it was a gentle reminder to be prepared to see Jesus in everyone I encounter.
The afternoon session was another opportunity to explore the beauty of Lectio Divina; this time with Bishop Hurley. The scripture was from John’s gospel, the feeding of the five thousand. During our shared reflections on this gospel, one of the Arrernte elders, Josephine, shared with us her concerns for her people in Alice Springs. Many families are starving but not much is being done to assist these families. Josephine shared with us that we are more than happy to support tragedies overseas but, it seems, we ignore the people in our own land – these people are her people! It was a stark reminder of the plight of Aboriginal people.
What are we doing to support our brothers and sisters? How can we support them in their journey?
We closed the day with the celebration of the Eucharist with Bishop Sproxton as principal celebrant and Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, and Bishop Hurley concelebrating. The Arrernte choir led by Fr Raass shared their voices and language with us. We had shared so much with each other and now we shared the Body of Christ. Once again, the words of scripture were made real; ‘were not our hearts burning within us!’
After Mass, I approached the Arrernte elders and asked if I could sit with them for a while. I desperately wanted to tell them that the Catholic parish I belonged to in Canberra was in a suburb named after the Arrernte people – Aranda. I told them my story and said I felt we were closely linked and being here and celebrating Mass with them was a sign. I even ventured to suggest that it almost made us sisters.
Josephine, then gently and quietly replied; ‘Yes, we can be sisters; we are sisters; you are our sister’. For me, that was the highlight of the day –to be welcomed and share the Eucharist in an ancient place and for that welcome to be extended to a relationship. Who would think my parish community in Canberra would be so closely linked to our First Nation peoples! Indeed, now, as family, what am I doing to support my brothers and sisters in their journey?