Benedict challenges Australians on Indigenous reconciliation

No one is exempt from engaging in the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and other Australians and accepting "historical truth" is vital for building a harmonious future, Pope Benedict wrote in a message to an Alice Springs conference at the weekend.

The Australian reports that Pope Benedict's message was delivered to 600 Indigenous people gathered to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit there in 1986 and that Catholics have welcomed Pope Benedict's first foray into the nation's domestic affairs.

"I encourage all Australians to address with compassion and determination the deep underlying causes of the plight which still afflicts so many Aboriginal citizens," the Pope said in his speech, read by papal legate, Sydney Cardinal Edward Cassidy.

"Much has been achieved along the path of racial reconciliation, yet there is still much to accomplish," the Pope said.

He encouraged all Australians to tackle "with compassion and determination" the underlying causes of the plight that afflicted so many Aboriginal citizens.

"Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness - two indispensable elements for peace," he said.

However, the Pope also warned Indigenous Australians that those injustices could not be invoked to shun responsibilities.

"While no culture may use past hurt as an excuse to avoid facing difficulties in meeting the contemporary social needs of its own people, it is also the case that only through readiness to accept historical truth can a sound understanding of contemporary reality be reached, and the vision of a harmonious future be espoused," he said.

Bishop Chris Saunders, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Committee on Social Justice, welcomed the Pope's statement. "We have been saying for some years that the situation in Australia with indigenous people, while improving, has a long way to go," he said. "We welcome the statement as support for Aboriginal people in their quest for justice."

Bishop Saunders said the statement was consistent with the pontiff's commitment to addressing social justice issues.

In his address, Pope Benedict said all Australians should be committed to the reconciliation process. "Much has been achieved along the path of racial reconciliation yet there is still much to be accomplished," he said. "No one can exempt themself from this process."

He also appealed to the Aboriginal community to be faithful to its worthy traditions but to adapt its living culture. Much rested on the elders of the communities, he said.

Referring to the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's visit to Alice Springs, Pope Benedict said that it was an occasion for joyful remembrance, but also for looking forward.

"The art of remembrance, exercised within an arch of hope, is not just an occasion of simple recollection," he said. "It renews purpose."

Drawing from the Gospel, Pope Benedict noted that every human community needs and seeks strong, inspiring leaders to guide others in the way of hope.

"Much rests therefore upon the example of the Elders of communities. I encourage them to exercise authority wisely through faithfulness to their traditions - songs, stories, paintings, dances - and most especially through a renewed expression of their deep awareness of God, made possible through the Good News of Jesus Christ," he said.

The Pope also appealed directly to the young people present at the Alice Springs gathering, urging them to "keep alight the flame of hope and walk tall".

"Don't allow your 'dreaming' to be undermined by the shallow call of those who might lure you into the misuse of alcohol and drugs, as promises of happiness. Such promises are false, and lead only to a circle of misery and entrapment. Instead, I exhort you to foster the encounter with the mystery of God's spirit active in you and in creation, beckoning you to a life of purpose, service satisfaction and joy."

Pope Benedict XVI calls for renewed purpose in meeting the challenges facing indigenous Australians (Media Release, ACBC, 7/10/06)
Pope urges Australians: confront Aboriginal pain
Pope backs Aboriginal reconciliation effort
Work hard for harmony: Pope

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
The Heart of our Country (Bishops' Social Justice Sunday Statement 2006)
Delivery of the Message Stick (Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 30/7/06)

Aboriginal elder tells Catholics to challenge Indigenous injustices (CathNews 15/9/06)
Bishops' social justice statement focuses on Indigenous disadvantage (CathNews 14/9/06)
John Paul's 1986 Indigenous message still challenges (CathNews, 30/8/06)
Message Stick visits Taree, NSW (CathNews, 15/6/06)
Brisbane Archdiocese welcomes Message Stick (CathNews, 27/2/06)
Catholic call for proper ATSIC replacement (1/6/04)

9 Oct 2006