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Reconciliation theme central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday solidarity


The traditional smoking ceremony, being performed by local elder Ben Cuimermara (Taylor), banishes bad spirits from the celebration while welcoming the good. Photo: Eric Martin

By Eric Martin

Last weekend’s 2019 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral was a celebration of the efforts by both the Indigenous community and the Catholic Church to achieve integration and solidarity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Though Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday Mass was celebrated across parishes on the first weekend of July, the Mass at the Cathedral was an opportunity to come together as a Church and share the myriad experiences of NAIDOC Week 2019.

Mass at the Cathedral was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton with concelebrants Fr Nino Vinciguerra, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Chaplain, Fr Sebastian Fernando and St Mary’s Cathedral Assistant Priest, Fr Conor Steadman as MC.


The winners of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry’s art competition, announced in the last week of June, are publicly presented with their prizes and certificates. Photo: Ron Tan.

According to Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, Chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics number more than 130,000 and are a growing demographic in the Church today.

“Just as Jesus did, we must meet people where they are and walk alongside our First Nation’s peoples on their journey to reconciliation and justice,” Bishop Macbeth-Green said.

“As Catholics, we can set an example for the rest of Australia to follow by coming together as equals and friends in our schools, parishes and organisations in the name of Jesus Christ and in the spirit of mutual respect and unity as one people.”

In his homily for the occasion, Bishop Sproxton explained that the example of Jesus played an important role in setting the standard for reconciliation within the Church.

“The way that Jesus shows is the way of embracing our limitations, embracing the uncertainties and even embracing the failures that come our way in achieving our aspirations,” Bishop Sproxton said.

“It is significant then that we are able to say to Jesus Christ: ‘Come into our lives, come into these situations, come into these problems and these issues that we want to solve in our society’.”


People talking to Jesus in the Bough shed, by the late Queenie McKenzie of Warmun was selected as the artwork for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday 2019 Poster. Photo: Supplied.

Rather than relying just on our own human strength, Bishop Sproxton urged the congregation to approach the path to reconciliation with His strength and with His example of the way of living the Gospel: embodying those virtues of humility and recognising the limits that we have ourselves.

“A Gospel that teaches us the need for patience; a Gospel that teaches us the need for compassion.”

This year’s theme of “Peace to the house and all who dwell within” was taken from Luke 10:1-12 and focused on the necessity of taking time to nurture the inner peace that comes with faith, and how God’s peace can bring healing to the wider community.

A painting by the late Kimberley artist Queenie McKenzie – named “People talking to Jesus in the brough shed” – was selected as the theme image for the Mass.

Despite the threatening skies, parishioners and guests were welcomed with a traditional smoking ceremony performed by local Noongar elders Teresa Walley and Ben Cuimermara (Taylor).

In traditional belief, the smoke calls down the good spirits and drives the bad ones away – as each person entered the Cathedral, they walked through the fragrant smoke to ensure that no bad spirits could enter in their company and violate the celebration.


Local elder Teresa Walley welcomes the parish and invited guests to St Mary’s Cathedral Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday celebrations. Photo: Ron Tan.

“Today, as we stand here in front of the house of the Holy Spirit, the smoking ceremony is a spiritual gift to our people, we’ve done this for thousands of years – I’m nearly 80 and we’ve done it ever since I was a little boy, and we still do it,” Uncle Ben shared with the crowd.

“We cast out all the bad spirits and call down the good ones.”

Indigenous students from Catholic schools across Perth were in attendance, showing their support and participating in the ceremony by proclaiming the readings and leading the offertory procession ahead of the Bishop, carrying the Aboriginal, the Australian, the Vatican and Torres Strait Islander flags.

After Mass, parishioners and guests were invited to participate in lunch and light refreshments in the under-croft, at which the winners of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry’s art competition, announced in the last week of June, were publicly presented with their prizes and certificates.