Indigenous elder advises religious on sale of "sacred sites"

Drawing on the experience of Aboriginal communities who have negotiated the sale of their traditional lands, Maitland Parker, a Banyjima elder from WA's Pilbara mining region, has advised leaders of religious communities that they must accept the sadness that comes with letting go of surplus properties.

Mr Parker, who is also a director of his community's investment fund, advised leaders of Religious Orders at a conference in Sydney this week that "they must accept that change will come".

He told the gathering that they will "have to accept sadness about their land" and "like me, make decisions on behalf of your people for the future".

Mr Parker is a key negotiator in dealings with multi-national mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. New mines lead inevitably to the destruction of sacred sites, and their loss is intense for his people, he said.

The fifty attending Religious leaders and finance staff of Orders at the "Heritage to Hope Conference" on property and assets sponsored by Catholic Religious Australia (ACLRI) and Church Resources, often faced a similar loss of their "sacred sites".

These sites include novitiates, schools and motherhouses which had been integral to the development of the Orders and to which many in the Orders and the Catholic community were emotionally attached.

Many of these buildings were now surplus to need, and often were a financial burden for Orders rather than a financial benefit, a media statement from ACLRI said.

The statement says a number of leaders were looking to how they might develop a cash-flow from their ministries and properties to finance new missions, with a particular emphasis on work with the poor in Australia and overseas and on spiritual development locally.

According to the statement, decisions were made on the first steps in how the religious orders might work together in new ministries, retreats and conferencing, holiday accommodation and property usage.

Executive Director of the Catholic Religious Australia, Josephite Sr Kristin Johnston, said the conference "gave the leaders a great range of skills and understanding in how to deal with change".

Working on property issues with often elderly congregations is tough, the statement says, yet the Orders agreed to work together to support their leaders in changes that will assist the whole Church, and the Australian and international communities.

Indigenous Elder advises Religious Leaders on Property Change (Catholic Religious Australia)

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12 Sep 2006