First ordained Torres Strait Islander longed for “one, true Church”

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Deacon Kopel Gibuma, right, with Monsignor Harry Entwistle, centre. PHOTO: Supplied

The first Torres Strait Islander to be ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church converted to Catholicism five years ago, and says he desired to become Catholic from the time he was a child.

“It was actually my childhood goal,” Kopel Gibuma told The Catholic Weekly. “I wanted to become one with the one, true Church.”

Mr Gibuma said his recent ordination to the diaconate within the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross was an “historical event” for himself and the people of Torres Strait. He is the first Torres Strait Islander to be ordained to any type of ministry within the Catholic Church.

Following his ordination Mr Gibuma said “I felt like I was at home.”

Traditional Torres Strait Islander dancers perform prior to the ordination ceremony. PHOTO: Supplied

The ceremony took place on 9 June at St Francis’ Xavier’s church in West Cairns. In traditional Torres Strait Islander style, the ceremony began with lots of dancing and singing.

Mr Gibuma’s fellow Torres Strait Islanders, who he refers to “aunties and uncles,” escorted him to the church in a “household procession” and presented him to the Bishop of Cairns, James Foley, and Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate, Monsignor Harry Entwistle.

The gospel was read by the Rev Ralph Madigan, the first permanent deacon of Aboriginal descent to be ordained for the Diocese of Cairns.

Bishop Foley ordained Mr Gibuma to the diaconate on behalf of the Ordinariate, which is one of three personal ordinariates around the world established by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Bishop James Foley, left, with Deacon Kopel Gibuma (second from left) and Monsignor Harry Entwistle, centre. PHOTO: Supplied

Personal ordinariates provide a vehicle by which those of Anglican heritage can be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, as Catholics.

Mons Harry Entwistle said the Anglicans of the Torres Strait Islands “have longed for unity with the Holy See.”

“The Torres Strait Anglicans have really been extremely Catholic in their sacramental understanding, their ethics, their morals and their idea of Church,” he said, because of Anglo-Catholic missionaries who evangelised the Islands.

Born into an Anglican family, Mr Gibuma entered the Melanesian Brotherhood—an Anglican religious order—when he was twenty years old.

He also worked as a police officer for eleven years. He entered into full communion with the Catholic Church about five years ago.

Mr Gibuma will serve as a deacon at St Clare’s Parish in Cairns, assisting Ordinariate priest Fr Gordon Barnier. Mons Entwistle said that following Mr Gibuma’s eventual ordination to the priesthood it is likely he will be sent to the parish on Dauan Island, where there are 40 to 50 locals who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.