Special Mass celebrates 30th anniversary of St John Paul II’s visit to Australia
The Mass celebrating St John Paul II’s visit to Australia 30 years ago began with a welcome to country by Noongar Elder Theresa Walley and a smoking ceremony by Ben and Alf Taylor. Didgeridoos were also played by Brandon and Thairon Jansen as guests were seated in the Cathedral. Photo: Jamie O’Brien
By Marco Ceccarelli
Today we remember the visit of Saint John Paul II to Alice Springs 30 years ago. His words to the Aboriginal People still ring out around Australia: The Church in Australia herself 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.
It was by echoing these profound and ground-breaking words spoken by Saint John Paul II 30 years ago that Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey addressed more than 700 people at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday, 27 November.
In a celebration marking the anniversary of the Pope’s visit to Australia, the Emeritus Archbishop commented on the history of the enduring presence of Aboriginal people in Western Australia and the arrival of missionaries.
The special Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey and concelebrated by Fr Joseph Rathnaraj, Fr Ray Havern, Fr Armando Carandang and Fr Paul Pitzen. Photo: Jamie O’Brien
Without dismissing what he labelled “the highs and lows of the impact of these missionary efforts,” the Emeritus Archbishop focused on the power of the person of Jesus Christ in bringing unity, healing and communion between people of different ethnicities in Australia.
“We see in Him one who loves us, one who has given his life for the whole world, one who calls us all to receive his gift of new life, one who brings to our lives a message of hope, forgiveness and healing and now who has prepared a place for us in the house of his Father after this is over. He is the one we welcome today and seek to know more intimately.
“Jesus is the one who calls us together in mutual understanding and unity to worship God in the Mass as brothers and sisters,” Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said.
The special celebration, which was concelebrated by Fr Joseph Rathnaraj, Fr Ray Hevern SAC, Fr Armando Carandang and Fr Paul Pitzen, was foregrounded by a welcome to country by Noongar Elder Theresa Walley and a smoking ceremony by Ben and Alf Taylor. Didgeridoos were also played by Brandon and Thairon Jansen as guests were seated in the Cathedral.
A procession, organised by members of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM), saw seven “message sticks” brought into the Cathedral, each bearing an inscription signalling one of the central aims of ACM: living God’s mercy and justice, growing in Gospel faith, enculturation, reconciliation, healing, community and leadership and other gifts. The sticks were made of wood from the old St Mary’s Cathedral.
Following the Mass, deputy Chairperson of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), Shirley Quaresimin, spoke of the importance of the commemorative event for Aboriginal Catholics and for Catholics all around Australia. She pointed out that the magnitude of the celebration had meant that similar Masses were being held throughout numerous Australian dioceses.
Her address was followed by that of Bev Port-Luis, who shared her experience of being present when the Pope visited Alice Springs, and a few words by Jacinta Taylor-Foster, who spoke of the relevance of St John Paul II’s message for her as an Aboriginal Catholic.
More than 700 people attended the special Mass celebrating St John Paul II’s visit to Australia and visit to Alice Springs on 29 November 1986. Photo: Jamie O’Brien
Visit of Saint Pope John Paul II to Alice Springs remembered throughout Australia
The Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral was a response to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s invitation for Church leaders, parishes and Indigenous communities throughout Australia to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s visit to Alice Springs on 29 November 1986.
Commenting on the meaning and scope of the event, Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Bishop Eugene Hurley, drew a correlation between the Pope’s visit and the current time of advent.
“It is appropriate that we celebrate and observe the thirtieth anniversary of the visit of John Paul II as we prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in Advent. As with both, the theme is one of hope and rebirth. This timely theme is an invitation and call to us to create and ensure a change in societal attitude and promote not only rebirth and hope but justice and equal rights of indigenous peoples.”
Saint Pope John Paul II blesses Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders at Blatherskite Park in Alice Springs on 29 November 1986. Photo: Supplied
Bishop Hurley went on to emphasise the importance of the words of Pope St John Paul II ‘You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you.’
“This is the right time and place when we, the Church, are invited and encouraged to listen to our Indigenous sisters and brothers and look at specific actions we need to take to ensure the meaningful roles and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our Church and society.”
Bishop Hurley emphasised that this commemoration was both a call to inspire faith communities to promote a greater contribution for First Nations peoples within our Church and “a call to actively face the massive assault and injustices on the very lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Those assaults include the high rate of suicide and incarceration among our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Chairman of NATSICC, John Lochowiak, who was present during the Pope’s visit, fondly recalls the event and the Pope’s words.
“As Saint John Paul II spoke, a windstorm picked up the red soil from the Earth and swirled it amongst our people. The dust seemed to intertwine with the words of love, hope and empathy. The message touched our souls and it touched our skin. Never before had we felt so welcome in the house of Jesus as when Saint John Paul II spoke:
If you stay closely united, you are like a tree standing in the middle of a bush-fire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn. The time for this rebirth is now!
“The impact of this day on our lives cannot be measured. It provided the encouragement for the establishment of Aboriginal and Islander Catholic Ministries all over Australia and it lit the fire in our hearts, which still provides the warmth, energy and strength for us to continue. We now have over 120,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia and the support of our Australian Catholic Bishops on our journey of faith,” Mr Lochowiak said.