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Reconciliation week: a time for prayer and healing

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reconciliation week - The catholic weekly
Photo: Patrick Lee

National Reconciliation Week opened with Masses and liturgies across the archdiocese on National Sorry Day 26 May to pray for healing and a shared commitment to action on the disadvantages experienced by First Nations peoples. 

Aboriginal Catholic Ministry leaders and elders met at St Andrew’s parish in Malabar parish where parish priest Fr John Knight celebrated a Mass for the occasion, beginning with an acknowledgment of country by Lisa Buxton of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. 

The church in Australia has long been committed to reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Its importance was emphasised during papal visits to Australia by Pope St Paul VI in 1970 and Pope St John Paul II in 1986.  

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National Reconciliation Week started as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993 (the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples) and was supported by Australia’s major faith communities.  

Last June, the Archdiocese of Sydney launched its Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan which aims to build a staged, sustainable program of healing, respect and reform. 

At the time, archdiocesan justice and peace promoter Fr Peter Smith said indigenous Australians are the youngest and fastest-growing section of the Catholic population, with the 2021 census recording more than 90,000 indigenous Australians living in greater Sydney. 

“Often think of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as being those who live in rural and remote areas of our country, but the reverse is quite true,” he said. 

In a statement for this year’s reconciliation week, Bishop Charles Gauci, Chair of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, called on the church to play its part in promoting healing and action on Indigenous disadvantage. 

Reconciliation is an “ongoing journey” of healing Bishop Gauci said in a statement on 27 May. 

“There has been much that needs to be healed—there has been injustice, discrimination, dispossession, and all that accompanies these issues.” 

Narrowing the gaps in life expectancy, housing, employment, and mental health was crucial, but there were “no easy answers” to these problems, the bishop added. 

“There is no room for paternalism, no room for pushing people where they don’t want to be, and no room for any form of disrespect. 

“This journey is not easy. Love demands sacrifices—it’s about giving, respecting, and wanting the absolute best for others.” 

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council asked all Catholics to work for reconciliation, particularly at a time when spirits “are low” in a reference to the unsuccessful Voice to Parliament referendum. 

“Now more than ever, we need to place our trust and hopes in the Holy Spirit and come together as a nation, undivided,” the council said in a statement. 

“We are one people under God, each with our own gifts and strengths, and now is the time we, as a church, show leadership through unity and purpose. 

“Our communities and families live with daily reminders of the disparity in health, education, and life expectancy.  

“The spirits of many of us are also low following the failed efforts of First Australians for our voice to be heard on issues that affect us.  

“However, we have faced challenges before and remain the oldest continuing culture in the world.” 

For more information, see https://socialjustice.catholic.org.au/2024/05/24/national-reconcilation-week/. 

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