In the wake of the death of George Floyd and the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, a spotlight is shining on “the appalling statistics of Aboriginal deaths in custody” in Australia, a Jesuit activist says.
Jesuit Father Frank Brennan, who received the Order of Australia for his work for Aboriginal rights, was speaking during a Mass for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday, observed on July 5.
In his homily, Brennan referred to the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, where Indigenous representatives told the Australia people that their “sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty.”
The Jesuit said he hoped the statement would “change hearts, providing a more secure place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the life of the Australian nation.”
There are around 760,000 Aboriginal people in Australia, making up 3.1 percent of the population. Around 133,000 are Catholic.
The indigenous population in Australia suffers shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, poorer health and lower levels of education and employment than the rest of Australians. In addition, the population has higher rates of alcohol and illicit drug use, mental health issues and childhood experience of violence.
Brennan noted that the preparatory documents for the upcoming Australian Catholic plenary council has called for forging deeper relationships with Australia’s indigenous peoples.
“This Discernment Group has laid down the challenge: The Church in Australia must be shaped by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and spirituality for it to be authentically a Church of this land. When the Church sinks its roots deep into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, it will authentically be a Church in the land with a new vision and energy for mission,” the priest said.
“Another group discerning how our Church might be more humble, healing and merciful have spoken of a Church in Trauma. They have insisted on the need for us all to start at the beginning of the trauma in this land,” he added.
He then quoted the discernment group document:
“The first roots of our contemporary country Australia were founded in trauma. The double trauma of a penal colony of confinement and punishment meeting the subsequent subjugation of our First Nations peoples has been written into our identity as a Nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are one of the most traumatized and disenfranchised peoples of the world. Our Church was present from these earliest times, and therefore carries these disturbing storylines in its history and identity.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin issued a statement on July 5 marking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday.
“We cannot be fully the Church Christ wants it to be without the First Australians having made their contribution to the Church’s life, and until it has been joyfully received,” the bishop said.
“We acknowledge the mistakes of the past in the treatment so often given to the First Australians by a number of new settlers. We also remain committed to walking alongside our Fist Nation’s brothers and sisters as they shape their own future and destiny. We can all grow to be the people God is calling us to be as we move forward in hope and trust, genuine love and respect,” Gauci added.