My Lord Bishop,
I want as briefly and frankly as possible to furnish this report
through you to His Eminence. It comes out of hearts yearning for
active support from the rest of the Church.
There are various ways of describing what this community is about.
I think I would prefer to think of it first as a community of prayer.
It is not difficult to turn our life into prayer here. Living as
close to the poor, as we are, means that we are consistently confronted
by the Gospel. We are being compelled to meet them and each other
in Gospel terms. In our formal morning prayer and in our daily Eucharist,
we are endeavouring to break the Word of God to each other.
Secondly, we are trying to be a pastoral community. It is our
aim to know and love every Aborigine in this district, every Aborigine
who is passing through. The Aboriginal remains the poorest and most
oppressed in our society. We rest on the help of the Aboriginal
people to help us change our hidden prejudices. We rely particularly
on Mrs Shirley Smith, who lives here. She loves the people, and
she loves us, and she tenderly forgives our shortcomings. We would
like to think that we are growing to be a sign of Christ’s love,
that every Aboriginal person would think of this place as a home
away from home, that they would all feel known and loved by us,
and assured that we are ready to support them in their sorrows and
anxieties, their aspirations for advancement and their fight for
justice. We must remain a community of hospitality so that all are
welcome to share our food and whatever accommodation we can provide.
We are all aware that this stance can carry a double edge, fraught
with the danger of paternalism. But we rely on the Aboriginal people,
and on Christ who is so truly represented in them to keep teaching
us the way. In this matter, we have all a long way to go, before
the atmosphere here becomes drenched in blackness, marked with the
spirit of aboriginality.
Thirdly, we aim to be a communication post. Aboriginal people,
more than most, yearn to keep in touch with those they love. Very
few have access to a telephone, particularly for incoming calls.
They are usually forced to change their address frequently. We try,
therefore, to be a stable reference point to alleviate their difficulty.
Fourthly, we would like to lay the foundation here of an in-service
training centre, with an eye to providing religious personnel in
areas which are not at present being served in this way. As well
as to the future massive expansion of numbers expected here in Sydney.
We are working closely with Fr Allan Mithen in this respect, and
with other interested priests and religious in country areas.
Fifthly, also in alliance with others working in this field, we
hope to provide a service to those Aboriginal people in jails, and
Aboriginal children in institutions, both Church and State, and
be a communication link between them and their families.
Finally, we are aware that we stand as a bridge between the Aboriginal
people and the white community, and that in the process of ourselves
being sensitised to respect aboriginality, we have the responsibility
of helping other Europeans to be sensitised too. We are conscious
then, of the need to communicate with the rest of the Church at
all levels, but particularly with the Hierarchy. At this point,
I must candidly report that there is a genuine disappointment among
a good number of the Aborigines that the Bishops are not sensitive
to their needs. One has only to review two points of contact with
them over the past five years. On his visit to Australia in 1970,
the Pope spoke hopeful words to them. They hoped that the whole
Church would take up the same emphasis as the Pope gave to them.
The year 1973 saw the Eucharistic Congress and the urgent pleas
from the Black and White conferences to the Church to speak up and
act on matters such as Aboriginal Land rights, injustice before
the Law and the Police and other Government bodies, housing, education,
and medical care. In 1974, Mrs Shirley Smith wrote a letter to the
Australian Bishops enclosing an urgent appeal for their support
in setting up a structure of pastoral service to Aborigines on the
East Coast of Australia. It was signed by fourteen priests and religious
as well as herself. She received no reply. Later that year, a group
of us were received for several hours by the Apostolic Nuncio where
we explained the contents of a petition to the Holy Father. After
the official setting up of the A.I.C.C., the Bishops failed to consult
it, and commissioned unilaterally the conducting of a survey by
Fr Hilton Deakin. That survey is now completed, and only reiterated
what is already known, and suggests what has already been suggested
repeatedly. In 1974 and 1975, Conferences have been held under the
auspices of the Queensland A.I.C.C. Motions were again passed, asking
the Government to act in the same areas of need. But the wider Church
has not, by and large, taken up those causes, and pressed them,
or shown the way to Governments and the general community. Little
wonder, then, that the image of the Church, in general among Aboriginal
people, is that its attitudes blend in perfectly with the attitudes
of the white society, that it stands on the side of the oppressor.
It is idle to suggest that the very few religious working in the
field are acting vicariously on behalf of all, for that is to deny
the nature of the Church. We, in the Aboriginal apostolate, are
sometimes spoken of as if we are waving the flag for others not
present, as though we belonged to the Department of External Affairs
in the Church. Or even a subsection of the Department of Archdiocesan
Yet poverty of spirit is the prerequisite of all Christian life.
And there is no poverty of spirit without a sharing of the spirit
of poor people. It involves feeling and touching the pulse of their
lives, and sharing the weight of their anguish and putting our shoulder
alongside theirs, and fighting with them for their rights. If only
our Bishops would do this in some realistic sense the gulf would
close in. I like to think hopefully of our Bishops standing at an
intersection where two roads meet – the road of exposed misery,
poverty and oppression, and the road of the Church’s magisterial
teaching. It is only here that orthodoxy turns into orthopraxis
and that the Word of God begins to speak loudly in men’s ears. I
know that the circles in which Bishops often move are not their
self-chosen ones, but inherited, and shaped by varied expectations.
But until they become mouthpieces for the hot breath of the poor
to blow long and hard into the life of the Church, even if this
means sending the rich away empty, the Aboriginal people will continue
to despair of obtaining support from a source from which they can
make lawful claim.
The community here which I have tried to describe is a fragile
one. Lack of sleep and pressing work could easily become a threat
to our prayer life and to the necessary amount of community reflection
and study which the work must involve. The time now seems opportune
and urgent for the Bishops to invite the Major Superiors of Orders,
both male and female, to allocate personnel to our community. Yet
this community will probably always remain, as it were, a single
dimension of the Aboriginal apostolate. There is still a need for
the Church to foster a group of charismatic poor – who go out by
vow without script or sandal or purse. At present, in the whole
Archdiocese there is no specialised form of religious life for a
boy to join if he feels a vocation to that dimension of apostolic
life. And then there is the dimension of active theologising over
the real human situation and the inspiring creative publishing which
could accompany it. That must be fostered too.
I have a dream that our Bishops would become gripped with the fact
of poverty and oppression which exists among the Aboriginal people,
that they would see as their prime pastoral role the leading of
all the faithful into the spirit of Poverty (and this will never
occur while the ‘anawim’ are ignored). If the Church is to be a
sign of the kingdom, it must give the respect due to princes to
the outcasts of the world. Never again must we allow a rhetoric
of idealism, a policy of compromise, but the end result being ‘business
(Fr) Ted Kennedy