Did you know there are more than 130,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics in Australia?
Interestingly, between the last two censuses, this part of the Catholic population was the only one that saw an increase. But there’s another number that’s even more startling – the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic priests: Zero.
At the synod on the Amazon last October, Catholic bishops discussed how to support the faith in indigenous communities in Latin America.
Among the issues discussed w as how to combat the lack of indigenous priests, and more broadly, how the Gospel might be r eceived and shared in those communities.
Those two issues are linked. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Catholics have for generations received the faith through a European lens. Not exclusively – there are many who have thought about and shared Christian stories through indigenous perspectives – but predominantly, at least when it comes to preaching at Mass.
How much richer would indigenous understandings of the Catholic faith be if they were passed on not by outsiders, but by members of their own community?
‘When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and respect, it is not God’s fi e but that of the world’, said Pope Francis during the synod. ‘Yet how many times has God’s gift been imposed, not o? ered; how many times has there been colonisation rather than evangelisation?’
The Pope and the bishops were criticised by some more conservative corners of the Church, particularly in relation to proposals to allow married priests in these communities. But their understanding about the need to enculturate the Gospel is not new (nor, for that matter, is the presence of married priests in particular corners of the Church).
John Paul II said much the same to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics during his visit to Uluru in 1986.
‘The Church invites you to express the living Word of Jesus in ways that speak to your Aboriginal minds and hearts’, he said. ‘All over the world people worship God and read his word in their own language, and colour great signs and symbols of religion with touches of their own traditions. Why should you be di? erent to them in this regard, why should you not be allowed the happiness of being with God and each other in Aboriginal fashion?’
The Amazon synod was signifi ant for all places in the world where the Gospel reaches people in indigenous cultures.
In its aftermath, our challenge in the Australian Church is to see how we can better support the faith in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic communities, and better provide opportunities for the faith to be shared and received ‘in Aboriginal fashion’.
Australian Catholics is published four times a year for schools across Australia, and has an archive of articles and online resources that can be used in the classroom. For more, visit www.australiancatholics.com.au.
Michael McVeigh has been the editor of Australian Catholics magazine since 2005, and is also the senior editor at Jesuit Communications Australia, overseeing Eureka Street and Madonna magazine. Provide copies of the magazine to parents or teachers in your school and help bring the faith to life in your community. Go to www. australiancatholics.com.au to find out how to subscribe.
One of the main focuses of the magazine in recent years has been to promote young writers. Through an internship program, students from Catholic high schools are given the opportunity to plan and edit one edition of Australian Catholics magazine each year. The magazine’s Young Journalist Award attracts more than 1000 entries from across the country annually, and the magazine’s young writers community offers ongoing opportunities and support for dozens of young people aged 15 to 25.
Outside of his work for Jesuit Communications, Michael has held positions on the Australian Catholic Media Council and the executive of the Australasian Catholic Press Association, as well as the Jesuits’ Asia Pacific communications group.