Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
30 Sep 2011
With the launch of World Mission Month tomorrow, 1 October, Catholic Mission Australia is celebrating the unique culture, language and spiritual traditions of the residents of Wadeye, and its long time partnership with the people of this remote community in far north Queensland.
Using the theme: "Hear My Voice...Believe," Catholic Mission Australia is urging all Australians to "hear the voices" of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
The theme for World Mission Sunday takes its inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI's message for World Mission Sunday on 23 October where he describes the universal mission as involving everyone.
"The Gospel is not an exclusive possession of those who have received it, but it is a gift to be shared, good news to be passed on to others," he said in his statement for this year's Mission Sunday.
The theme for this year's Mission Month also looked to Blessed John Paul II and the theme drew on the memorable address he gave during his visit to Alice Springs in 1986 when he invited Australia's Aboriginal people to "express the living word of Jesus in ways that speak your Aboriginal minds and hearts."
"The Church herself in Australia 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," he told Australia's Indigenous people.
Now 25 years later, Catholic Mission Australia expands on these powerful words and urges the world to hear the voices of Indigenous people and pay tribute to the way their culture and traditions have enriched the Universal Church and the Catholic faith.
The Catholic Mission partnership with the people of Wadeye dates back to 1935 with the arrival of Father Richard Docherty, MSC who arrived by boat from Darwin. He was joined six years later by three sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart who staffed a mission kitchen, taught basic skills to the children in the community and established the region's first hospital.
A number of local Indigenous women joined the Sisters as religious and the first married Indigenous deacon in Australia, Boniface Perdjert made history when he was ordained at Wadeye in 1974. Today, 37 years later, he is the nation's longest serving Catholic deacon.
"Firstly and above all else we are a catholic Community. This is not just what we are but who we are," says Thodora Narndu, one of Wadeye's most respected and beloved elders.
Today more than 3000 live in this remote community which is made up of 12 separate communities which form 21 clan groups. Seven languages are spoken within the town of Wadeye and 11 spoken in the greater Wadeye area. What is particularly interesting is that all in the community are Catholic and under the dedicated pastoral care of Father Leo Wearden MSC, whose living costs are funded by Catholic Mission Australia.
On his journeys throughout Wadeye and to the outlying bush settlements, Fr Wearden is frequently accompanied by Indigenous Catholic leaders, Angela Ninnal and Carmelita Perdjert who speak to each group in their own language bringing the gift of God's all embracing love and how He wants the Indigenous people to value themselves as Aboriginal Catholics, strong in culture, identity and faith.
Students at Darwin's ecumenical Nungalinga Theological College, Angela and Carmelita flew to Sydney last week to help Catholic Mission Australia launch World Mission Month 2011 and to speak about the languages, culture, spiritual traditions and strong faith of the people of Wadeye.
Among the speakers at the launch was well known Aboriginal elder and Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Graeme Mundine.
"This is an opportunity to not only recognise what we have achieved together, but to also connect and learn more about the good things that are being done, the things still to be done and at a deeper level, to learn more about ourselves as people who care and who place our faith in a loving God," he said, explaining how lucky those present were to have Angela and Carmelita on hand to talk about their experiences and the achievements of those at Wadeye.
"Too often at events involving Indigenous people the focus is on the troubles Aboriginal people have, and inevitably the talk turns to how we can 'fix them,'" he said pointing out a frequent negative focus with achievements frequently overlooked. "And we forget that not all Aboriginal people are living in poverty and that many who have managed to get educated, are living everyday lives; earning a living, paying a mortgage, raising and educating their kids, paying taxes, supporting charities and contributing to our society- just as other Australians do."
But Mr Mundine added that for each of these "success" stories there was a story of struggle and that somewhere along the line they, their parents or grandparents, had to have bucked the system to find a way through discrimination, dispossession and poverty to take their place as equals in Australian society.
"Many of our great leaders have come through the Church," he said and urged programs developed to support Aboriginal people involve Aboriginal people themselves and take advice and counsel from the people who know best - the Aboriginals themselves. "You need to trust us to run our own lives."
In addition to focussing on the achievements of Australia's Indigenous people and the community of Wadeye in particular, Catholic Mission Australia turns its spotlight on the Indigenous people of Izabal in Guatemala as part of World Mission Month.
"Like the people of Wadeye, those in Izabal live in a remote community and face similar challenges and like the people of Wadeye are an inspiration for their strong faith in the way they live their lives," says Martin Teulan, Director of Catholic Mission Australia.
World Mission Month runs throughout October and gives Catholic Mission Australia a chance to talk about the work of Catholic Mission where priests, religious and lay men and women work tirelessly bringing practical help and pastoral care to people who live in some of the most conflict-ridden, war-torn, troubled, remote or inaccessible regions of the world.
To find out more about World Mission Month and World Mission Appeal Sunday by logging on to www.catholicmission.org.au