Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Faith Matters

    Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

    Faith Matters: Reconciliation

    We celebrate Reconciliation Week at the College and I would like to offer an edited version of St John-Paul IIs address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait people given in Alice Springs in 1986. Although offered over thirty years ago his prophetic statements and affirmation of Indigenous people and culture resonates and challenges us to continue our efforts towards reconciliation. I offer you the following for your personal reflection and contemplation during this important week for our society.

    At the beginning of time, as Gods Spirit moved over the waters, he began to communicate something of his goodness and beauty to all creation. When God then created man and woman, he gave them the good things of the earth for their use and benefit; and he put into their hearts abilities and powers, which were his gifts.

    As the human family spread over the face of the earth, your people settled and lived in this big country that stood apart from all the others. Other people did not even know this land was here; they only knew that somewhere in the southern oceans of the world there was "The Great South Land of the Holy Spirit". 

    But for thousands of years you have lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. And during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you. Your "Dreaming", which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain for ever people of your culture, is your only way of touching the mystery of Gods Spirit in you and in creation. You must keep your striving for God and hold on to it in your lives. 

    The rock paintings and the discovered evidence of your ancient tools and implements indicate the presence of your age-old culture and prove your ancient occupancy of this land. Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. Do not think that your gifts are worth so little that you should no longer bother to maintain them. Share them with each other and teach them to your children. Your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your languages, must never be lost.

    For thousands of years this culture of yours was free to grow without interference by people from other places. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the landThrough your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of mans relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power in life greater than yourselves. You did not spoil the land, use it up, exhaust it. and then walk away from it. You realized that your land was related to the source of life. 

    The silence of the Bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of Gods Spirit. Your careful attention to the details of kinship spoke of your reverence for birth, life and human generation. You knew that children need to be loved, to be full of joy. They need a time to grow in laughter and to play, secure in the knowledge that they belong to their people. 

    The culture which this long and careful growth produced was not prepared for the sudden meeting with another people, with different customs and traditions, who came to your country nearly 200 years ago. These people had knowledge, money and power; and they brought with them some patterns of behaviour from which the Aboriginal people were unable to protect themselves. The effects of some of those forces are still active among you today. Many of you have been dispossessed of your traditional lands, and separated from your tribal ways, though some of you still have your traditional culture.

    We know that during the last two hundred years certain people tried to understand you, to learn about you, to respect your ways and to honour you as persons. These men and women, as you soon realized, were different from others of their race. They loved and cared for the indigenous people. They began to share with you their stories of God, helped you cope with sickness, tried to protect you from ill-treatment. They were honest with you, and showed you by their lives how they tried to avoid the bad things in their own culture.

    These people were not always successful, and there were times when they did not fully understand you. But they showed you good will and friendship. They came from many different walks of life. Some were teachers and doctors and other professional people; some were simple folk. History will remember the good example of their charity and fraternal solidarity. 

    The establishment of a new society for Aboriginal people cannot go forward without just and mutually recognized agreements with regard to these human problems, even though their causes lie in the past. The greatest value to be achieved by such agreements, which must be implemented without causing new injustices, is respect for the dignity and growth of the human person.

    The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speaks all languages. It esteems and embraces all cultures. It supports them in everything human and, when necessary, it purifies them. Always and everywhere the Gospel uplifts and enriches cultures with the revealed message of a loving and merciful God. In the new world that is emerging for you, you are being called to live fully human and Christian lives, not to die of shame and sorrow. But you know that to fulfil your role you need a new heart. You will already feel courage rise up inside you when you listen to God speaking to you in these words of the Prophets: 

    "Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine. Do not be afraid, for I am with you". 

    And again: 

    "I am going to... gather you together... and bring you home to your own land... I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you... You shall be my people and I will be your God". 

    With you I rejoice in the hope of Gods gift of salvation, which has its beginnings here and now, and which also depends on how we behave towards each other, on what we put up with, on what we do, on how we honour God and love all people. 

    Dear Aboriginal people:

    the hour has come for you to take on new courage and new hope. You are called to remember the past, to be faithful to your worthy traditions, and to adapt your living culture whenever this is required by your own needs and those of your fellowman. Above all you are called to open your hearts ever more to the consoling, purifying and uplifting message of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that we might all have life, and have it to the full.

    St John-Paul II, 1986

     

    Yours in Christ,

    Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator 

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