Indigenous mural shock at Redfern parish

In a shock to the parish priest, an unauthorised team of black and white painters has painted a huge new mural with Indigenous motifs and a quote from John Paul II on the east wall of St Vincent's Church, in Sydney's inner city Redfern.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Fr Gerry Prindiville had come to Mass to find that the mural had appeared overnight. "They must have broken in to do it," he said. "It concerns me that someone can break into my church."

However, the place was jubilant and the old parish crowd - meaning local Aborigines and social justice groups - were out in force congratulating themselves on their "coup at the expense of the priest sent three years ago to straighten out the parish," the Herald report says.

"We were reclaiming the church for the Aboriginal people," Griffo, one of the mural painters said. "We had to sort of sneak in, not let the priests know what we were doing." He insists entry was not forced. "One of the sisters came and climbed through the window."

Planning apparently went on for weeks. It took the mixed black and white team of painters six hours to do the tree of hands and the animals and the lines from Pope John Paul II's famous 1986 speech in Alice Springs: "For thousands of years you, the Aboriginal people, have lived in this land with a culture that endures to this day "

Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan - wearing a vestment worn by former parish priest Fr Ted Kennedy at local Indigenous rights activist Mum Shirl's funeral, and by Bishop David Cremin at Fr Kennedy's funeral - was present for yesterday's Mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of John Paul II's speech.

When he called on the Redfern congregation to stand and bless this "permanent" memorial to Aboriginal spirituality, Fr Prindiville's arms stayed tightly by his side, the Herald reported.

Preaching on the loaves and fish and alluding to the conflicts in the parish, Fr Brennan asked: "This big mob, how can they be fed? This big mob, how can they be reconciled?"

Comparing the seminarians from the Neocatechumenate Movement - new arrivals in Australia - and the Indigenous people present at the ceremony to "two book-ends holding together the rest of us who are the books on the shelf of modern Australia," he said "all it takes is five barley loaves and two fish to reconcile."

"Just remember the small boy in today's gospel. ... The boy gave everything he had. Only then was Jesus able to feed everyone with sufficient for there to be leftovers. Only then will he be able to reconcile us. We must give and share all we are and have," Fr Brennan told the crowd at St Vincent's parish.

According to Fr Prindiville, "the problem is that people won't accept any sort of authority. They have been used to doing their own thing for so long."

The great St Vincent's break-in (Sydney Morning Herald 31/7/06)
Frank Brennan's homily, Delivery of the Message Stick, St Vincent's Church (30/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Church Mouse - St Vincent's Redfern community website | Church Mouse Journal
St Vincent's Parish, Redfern (Sydney Archdiocese)
Mum Shirl (Church Mouse website)
Fr Ted Kennedy (wikipedia.org)
Fr Frank Brennan profile (Uniya)

Threat to memory of Redfern's Mum Shirl (CathNews 2/5/06)
Death of Redfern's Fr Ted Kennedy (CathNews 18/5/05)
Priest denies Redfern church is "for the Aboriginals" (CathNews 29/7/04)

31 Jul 2006