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Dr Miriam Rose to meet Pope Francis during Reconciliation Week

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Archdiocesan Promoter of Justice and Peace, Fr Peter Smith interviews Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann at the Aboriginal Catholics and Reconciliation evening. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archdiocesan Promoter of Justice and Peace, Fr Peter Smith interviews Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann at the Aboriginal Catholics and Reconciliation evening. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Aboriginal elder Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann has taken her message of reconciliation to Pope Francis and other senior figures at the Vatican, but says her community doesn’t know enough about the upcoming referendum to comment on the First Nations Voice to Parliament.

The 2021 Senior Australian of the Year from Nauiyu near the Daly River community of the Northern Territory was due to meet the pope in a private audience on 31 May, as The Catholic Weekly went to print.

“It being Reconciliation Week in Australia I know the Holy Father will want to know whether the Catholic Church is working with us throughout this country, in relation to reconciliation and other types of work,” Dr Ungunmerr Baumann told The Catholic Weekly by phone from Darwin airport en route to Rome.

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“At my home we have the parish priests, and the bishop is there to call if we need anything.

“Mother Teresa’s sisters come every so often but not as much as we would love for them to come.”

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann, 73, is a guest of the Australian Embassy to the Vatican at a week-long celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Holy See during Reconciliation Week.

Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, said it was a pleasure to welcome Dr Ungunmerr Baumann to Rome on National Sorry Day, May 27 which was also the anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Ms Porro said the visit was a unique opportunity to exchange perspectives on many priority issues for both Australia and the Holy See.

“It will also be an emotive journey by one of our country’s most respected Indigenous leaders, and it stands to be an inspiration and an example that will resonate strongly with Aboriginal communities across Australia,” she said.

“It will also be an emotive journey by one of our country’s most respected Indigenous leaders, and it stands to be an inspiration and an example that will resonate strongly with Aboriginal communities across Australia.

“We are grateful to our partners, including Domus Australia and the Australian Catholic University, for their support in facilitating this important visit.”

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann said her life has been busier than ever since she was named the Senior Australian of the Year.

“Last year I went to London to attend the Queen’s funeral, and now this,” she said.

Aboriginal elder Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM attended the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II wiith Sydney father Danny Abdallah in London. Photo: Supplied
Aboriginal elder Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM attended the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II wiith Sydney father Danny Abdallah in London. Photo: Supplied

“I think I’m the most travelled person in my community. So I’m nervous but I’m ready to meet the pope.”

She planned to unveil her artwork specially commissioned for the anniversary year at a reception at the Vatican Museums on 30 May, before taking part in discussions on inclusive education, integral ecology and Indigenous spirituality.

She will also present a talk on her people’s concept of dadirri, or deep listening, quiet stillness and patient waiting.

The week with conclude on 3 June with a lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University by Fr Frank Brennan SJ, an advocate of the First Nations Voice to Parliament on the recognition of Aboriginal rights in Australia.

On the Voice Dr Ungunmerr Baumann said she couldn’t comment, because “a lot of people in the bush don’t really understand what’s going on, because there’s not enough information for us.”

“If it’s going to affect us, why aren’t people explaining it to us and how it might affect us on the ground?”

She was a founding member of the National Indigenous Council, an advisory body established by prime minister John Howard and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough in 2004.

“I can’t see any difference with my time on the National Indigenous Council [and the Voice],” she told The Australian on 30 May.

Dr Ungunmerr Bauman was also the first fully qualified Indigenous teacher in the Northern Territory, and is also a youth advocate, educator and artist.

Last October she urged Catholics to be ambassadors for reconciliation at an event hosted by the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace Office.

“I suggest they learn about the country their schools and parishes are on,” she said.

“Find out what language group it is and sit down and listen to each other.

“I ask you to act as an ambassador, to continue this journey of walking together and deeply listening to each other, so that all Australians feel heard and understood. And through this, true reconciliation can occur.”

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