Sherry Balcombe

Coordinator Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Thornbury Victoria

Pope Francis during Armenian President Serzh Sragsyan’s official visit to Vatican City, Italy. PAN Photo. flickr cc.

Our National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, with the assistance of the Australian Bishops’ Conference,  in a video message, requested a blessing from Pope Francis. Recorded in Alice Springs, the video features people present at Blatherskite Park in 1986. These people experienced first-hand the impact made by St John Paul II’s words. A letter accompanied our video (along with Spanish translations), expressing the power of the event in Alice Springs.

How wonderful that Pope Francis has written a personal note to all Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people encouraging us to embrace our culture and share it with all his Church, saying we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

He assures us of his spiritual closeness as we reflect on the wonderful speech that St Pope John Paul II gave in Alice Springs 30 years ago, the real inspiration for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people in Australia.

That speech in Alice Springs gave us the spiritual nourishment to continue with our struggle to be recognised; it gave us the courage to move forward even with all the negativity being sent our way, as the Holy Father came to Australia to speak to us, and to encourage us to “find our rightful place in the Church”.

We embraced that calling. We heard with our ears, but felt in our hearts and souls. With this, we had renewed hope, renewed courage, and revived faith that we were meant to be on the path we were travelling.

The road ahead of us then, as now, was not easy, but we as Aboriginal people in Australia were used to having a difficult road which only made us strong and determined to move forward, as we were following the Holy Father’s wishes and the wishes of God.

Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air for people around the world, and especially for us in Australia. He has spoken of us all attending to the most disadvantaged, and he has done so in his own actions. He is leading the way.

Pope Francis wrote, ‘This anniversary affords me the happy opportunity to express my deep esteem for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for your ancient cultural heritage’.

Then he reiterated St Pope John Paul’s message not to lose our culture but to pass it on to future generations.

The challenge to all the Church is to embrace us, to listen to the ancient story lines and learn about our deep connection to the Creator Spirit, who has been here with us in Australia since the dawn of time.

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