Fusion of faith and culture for Central Australian church

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Alice Springs

Alice Springs parish is planning to mark two historical milestones while strengthening the fruits of reconciliation Pope Saint John Paul II spoke about during his visit there three decades ago.

Parish priest Fr Asaeli Raass SVD said the parish had much to celebrate this year with the 50th anniversary of their church – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart – and 90 years since the parish’s first priest, Fr James Long MSC, celebrated the first Catholic Mass on the land of the Arrernte people.

The event will be marked by the installation of a new stained glass window of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart designed by prominent Catholic Aboriginal artist Kathleen Wallace.

Fr Raass said the parish aimed to put into action the words of encouragement and reconciliation spoken by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1986 when he said: “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.”

Said Fr Raass: “Our plans include minor renovations to the Church, but our biggest project is a special gift to the church building and community which recognises the religious cultural contribution of the Arrernte people.

“Kathleen Wallace is one of the top artists in Central Australia and, in fact, she’s from this land. She creates abstract dot paintings, amazing works. She has been commissioned by the Arrernte Catholic elders to paint, on their behalf, an abstract dot painting of our Lady of the Sacred Heart. This has never been done before, the fusion between Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, and our land, which is also our mother.”

Fr Raass said the painting on canvas would be transferred to the largest window of the Church, behind the altar, using a contemporary stained-glass-making technique by Axess Glass in Melbourne, where the finished glass image is inserted between two UV protected panels for durability and strength against the extreme heat.

And while the project has already gained some good financial support, the parish community is still raising funds for this significant project.

“We are raising funds for the project and asking parishioners to sacrifice a cup of coffee or ice cream a week and offer it for this project,” Fr Raass said.

“We’re also asking businesses in town to help us and whoever believes in this project nationally to support us so that the dream of Saint John Paul II can be realised.”

Fr Raass said while the Church’s official anniversary is on May 11, this year’s celebrations and unveiling of the new stained-glass window had been scheduled for October 13, to allow for the completion of other minor renovations.

For more information about the project, including information on how to assist, email: Olsh_parish_asp@bigpond.com