John Paul's 1986 Indigenous message still challenges

John Paul II's 1986 statement to Indigenous people at Alice Springs "was more radical than anything he said about land rights," human rights advocate Fr Frank Brennan said, as the Message Stick marking the 20th anniversary of the late Pontiff's visit completes its Queensland journey.

Fr Brennan, professor at the Australian Catholic University and Notre Dame University, was writing in a special edition of the Australasian Catholic Record (ACR) that offers a series of reflections on the legacy of John Paul II's landmark 1986 speech to Indigenous Australians.

"No one would claim that the Pope's speech at Alice Springs was a determinative catalyst accelerating the positive developments and putting a brake on the negative reversals in Australian church and society these last twenty years," he wrote.

"But this speech still embodies the most noble shared aspirations of Aboriginal Catholics and those wanting to see Aborigines take their place in the Australian Church."

Fr Brennan also notes the many deep problems still existing in the church's ministry with Indigenous peoples, including the growing problems caused by a lack of priests and religious and committed lay people to minister in Aboriginal and islander communities.

In another article, Bishop Christopher Prowse of Melbourne examines the uniqueness of the Pope's Alice Springs speech, offering three key reflections when considering the path forward: "the need to extend and deepen an informed and committed solidarity; the possibility of a multi-layered approach in the face of persistent deplorable statistics; the search for a broader missiological methodology."

The late Pope's statement that the Australian Church 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" requires deep reflection, Bishop Prowse said.

Other contributors to the ACR special issue include Jeff Kildea, Joan Hendriks, Bernard Rooney, Brigida Nailon and John Wilcken.

In another development commemorating the 20th anniversary of John Paul II's visit to Alice Springs, a message stick that has been travelling through Queensland has completed its journey through the northern state.

This message stick is one of a number journeying throughout Australian dioceses, inviting the faithful to revisit the challenge of reconciliation.

Bishop of Rockhampton Brian Heenan says he hopes the message stick will help to achieve lasting reconciliation.

"We talk about the questions of education and health but the questions of respect and acceptance I think and walking together is still a long way to go," he said.

Meanwhile, Caritas Australia has announced the appointment of Torres Strait-born Peter Sabatino as its Indigenous Program Coordinator.

Mr Sabatino, who is of Torres Strait Islander and Filipino heritage, says that working in the area of justice and reconciliation brings him back into contact with his own past.

"It helps me to see how my experiences, such as growing up on a Catholic Mission in the Torres Strait, stories I have been told, and the histories of my elders, have shaped who I am now. I bring these experiences to my work with Caritas Australia," he said.

Photos courtesy of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish (Alice Springs)

ACR looks at legacy of Pope John Paul II's speech to indigenous Australians (Australasian Catholic Record, Media Release, 24/8/06)
Catholic Church hopes message stick will aid reconciliation (ABC Online, 29/8/06)
Caritas Australia employs local Torres Strait islander Peter Sabatino (Caritas Australia 29/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australasian Catholic Record

Message Stick visits Taree, NSW (CathNews, 15/6/06)
Brisbane Archdiocese welcomes Message Stick (CathNews, 27/2/06)
Delivery of the Message Stick (Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 30/7/06)

30 Aug 2006