Archived News Item

Mercy presence at national Indigenous gathering

The NATSICC Assembly was held in Alice Springs to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s message. This event brought together Aboriginal and other groups from all corners of Australia to relive, recap and revive the spirit of our previous spiritual shepherd and his hope for an accepting universal Church. The following responses are from Sisters Marea Roberts and Celestine Pooley who attended the Assembly.



By Marea Roberts RSM (North Sydney Congregation)


                        While politicians talk

                                    the babies die

                        While politicians talk

                                    the young suicide

                        While politicians talk

                                    the mothers cry

                        While politicians talk

                                    the spirits of the dead men sigh

                        While politicians talk

                                    the statistics rise

                        And all the while

                        no outraged cry

                        from those dividing

                        the spoils of dispossession




Some Reflections from Alice Springs

By Celestine Pooley RSM (North Sydney Congregation)


Being present at the “Dreaming from the Heart” Assembly at Alice Springs was a unique and rich experience, and one which I’ll be processing for a long time to come. It was “˜unique’ in that it did not follow the usual format of a Conference with speakers and input, but rather it was a “˜gathering’ and a celebration of faith and culture through liturgy and Eucharist. Other parts of the programme were woven around that centerpiece. Where the indigenous people were able to give genuine expression to their culture within the liturgy it was spontaneous and inspiring. I believe we had a glimpse of the rich contribution these truly spiritual people could make to the Catholic Church if the following words of Pope John Paul II became a reality within the wider Church community:


“…the Church 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.”


This quote, reiterated many times throughout the week, was obviously one that resonated deeply in the hearts of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who yearn for a more inclusive Church. It seems to me there is much work to be done on both sides. Just as we might find it hard to grasp the Spirit World out of which their indigenous spirituality and culture come, they must surely struggle to incorporate that into our liturgical practices.


In trying to find common ground we need to move beyond tokenism to come to some genuine appreciation and understanding of the gift they have to offer. In the context of this Assembly where we were part of a sincere outpouring of faith, we couldn’t fail to be challenged as Catholics to take the Pope’s challenge articulated above, seriously – and be prepared to stay the course until it is achieved.


As a group of Mercy sisters who pledged at our Institute chapter “to continue to support wholeheartedly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in their struggle for justice”, this responsibility and its accompanying challenge was very real.


One small, practical step suggested by the indigenous people as a start, was a plea to do all we could to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday was celebrated in all our parishes, and institutions and that it appear on all our calendars.


On another level, the Assembly was unique in that the indigenous culture was the dominant one. This was their Assembly in which we as non-indigenous Australians were invited to take part. Religious sisters and brothers, priests, bishops, and laity responded generously – all there to show their support and solidarity with the indigenous people. It was obviously appreciated. Our Mercy presence too, was recognised and warmly welcomed especially by those Aboriginal people with whom we have had the opportunity to build some relationships of trust.


Personally, I found it humbling to experience their warmth and hospitality, and I came away with a heightened sense of responsibility to ensure that we never betray their trust. Several times throughout the week I found echoing within me Peter’s words to Jesus on the mountain, “Lord it is good for us to be here…”


There is much more that I could share – the personal stories that evoked a variety of emotions, the creativity of the indigenous people in their presentations, those precious one-on-one interactions, and the excitement building up to the climax of the Assembly with the Mass and celebration at Blatherskite Park, walking in the footsteps and recalling the hope and encouragement that Pope John Paul II had given to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on that great occasion twenty years ago.


We joined them in the procession, carrying the Mercy Message Stick for all of you, and placing it beneath the altar with those of the indigenous people. This had been a week where we celebrated, interacted, appreciated differences and were truly united as the People of God.


From: Specific Issues Committee, Indigenous Concerns (Sisters Rose Glennen, Kay O’Neill, Liz Rothe)


Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator