The following is an edited excerpt from the Pastoral Letter from the Australian Catholic Bishops for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday 2017:
Just a few months ago an Aboriginal Elder in the Kimberley, well advanced in years and at that time in poor health, wrote a letter a few weeks before his death. It was written in copperplate style, in blue ink on thin note paper and was several pages long. His instructions were that the priest at his funeral might share the letter with the mourners in attendance at the church.
In this letter he outlined his own personal faith journey. He recalled how he had been brought up on a Catholic mission, had been given a good grounding in the faith but then how it was that he had then strayed from his faith after a torrid life and a broken marriage. He spoke of his conversion, his repentance for the wrongdoings in his life, the absolution given him at the hands of a local priest, and how he began to walk the pathway of new life in Christ. He was, in his own words, ‘Close once again to Jesus’ and ‘Happy to be with God.’
A large part of his letter was addressed to his family where he spoke of the importance of the family, how he needed them and how they needed each other. How the family, he said, was the foundation of their lives as Aboriginal people, and was at the core of their identity.
The old man had much to say. He implored them all, but particularly his grandchildren, to be determined to get their lives in order by right-living and by basing their behaviours on Gospel values. He spoke of the power and the importance of prayer as the Grace of God alive in us. Such prayerfulness is a necessary help if we are to live as God intended.
Writing of the Rosary as prayer, the Elder pointed out to them just how important a prayer it is and how easily it can be prayed by individuals or better still in a family group, around the campfire at night. ‘Ask Mary to talk to Jesus for us. Our Lord will never deny His Blessed Mother’, he counselled.
Pope John Paul II, during his visit to Australia in 1986, wrote in his address to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: ‘If you stay closely united, you are like a tree standing in the middle of a bush-fire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burned; but inside the tree sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn.’
May our nation be inspired by those Indigenous people who in the depths of their family life stand together as one. May our families continue to grow to be like Christ so ‘that all might have life and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10)
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