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NATSICC retreat in the heart of Australia touches Perth attendees


Sr Frances Wilson, Vicky Burrows and Donna Ryder from the Archdiocese of Perth’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry visit culturally significant sites during the NATSICC Spirituality and Formation Retreat in Alice Springs. Photo: Supplied.

By Rachel Curry

Archdiocese of Perth Auxiliary Bishop, Don Sproxton, and Aboriginal Catholic Ministry staff have been inspired by their recent trip to the inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) Spirituality and Formation Retreat in Alice Springs.

Supported by the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the retreat took place from 19 to 21 April and brought together about 60 people working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic ministry from all over the country.

Bishop Sproxton said the retreat had been planned as an opportunity to reflect, share and learn from one another.

“Normally, our meetings are for business, but it had been felt by the NATSICC members that a retreat would be very valuable in building an important foundation of trust and deeper respect as we listened to one another in a spirit of prayer,” he said.

“It turned out to be a moment of great grace and communion.”


Aboriginal women pose for a photo at Blatherskite Park during the NATSICC Spirituality and Formation Retreat in Alice Springs. Photo: Supplied.

He was one of a number of prelates in attendance, including Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, and Bishop of Darwin, Eugene Hurley, while the presenters included theologian, Evelyn Parkin, and NATSICC chairperson, John Lochowiak.

Bishop Sproxton said one of the highlights of the retreat was hearing the Dreamtime stories of the local Aboriginal people, which are inspired by the forms of the MacDonnell Ranges that run east and west of Alice Springs.

“Their stories of the Dreamtime are ways of explaining their origins and the respect for the world around them,” he said.

“We, the people who have come to Australia much later, have received a tradition that helps us to understand the way things are in the Book of Genesis, particularly the gradual alienation of humanity from God and the need for Christ to come to restore the relationship on our behalf.”

The retreat also featured Lectio Divina sessions to help attendees to pray with the Scriptures and sessions on symbols, initiation, sacrament and mission, as understood by the Church and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Bishop Sproxton said the latter sessions revealed remarkable similarities between both traditions.

“Particularly moving was the note of deep appreciation that was made by an Aboriginal Elder for the knowledge about Jesus that her people received from the Catholic missionaries,” he said.

The retreat coincided with the 30-year anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Alice Springs, when he gave a stirring address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The attendees marked this occasion by celebrating Mass at Blatherskite Park, just as the Pope had done, resulting in an experience they described as beautiful and spiritual.

Bishop Sproxton said it was a privilege to recall the Holy Father’s words of encouragement from all those years ago.


Sr Frances Wilson, Reg Carnamah and Donna Ryder from the Archdiocese of Perth’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry are in good spirits as they arrive at Alice Springs Airport. Photo: Supplied.

“Much has been achieved, but much more must be done, since that day the Pope challenged the entire nation to acknowledge that we will be lacking something vital if we do not welcome the contribution of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to the Australian conversation on who we are and where we are going,” he said.

Donna Ryder, member of the Pastoral Care Team within the Archdiocese of Perth’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, said she found the retreat very beneficial.

Ms Ryder’s personal highlight was the Prayer of Open Hands and Open Hearts on the first day, which encouraged attendees to look within themselves to find the compassion to help others.

She said this was one of many positives she took away from the experience.

“It was good to get together with other Aboriginal Catholic ministries to learn about the different things they’re doing; it was good to reconcile the Bible to our Indigenous culture and heritage; and it was good to meet the bishops on a different level, a more social level,” she said.

NATSICC Councillor for Western Australia, Shirley Quaresimin, who was one of the organisers of the retreat, said they had received a lot of positive feedback and there seemed to be a demand for more of these types of events.

“I think talking to the people who attended, they really enjoyed it and the bishops, particularly Bishop Don, were saying perhaps we could have some more of these retreats,” she said.

“It’s the first time for NATSICC to have one of these retreats so maybe more people will come next time.”