Vol 40 No 4
Martin Wilson MSC
GSELL CENTENARY. MISSIOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Pat Mullins SJ
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
Peter Hearn MSC
COMMENT ON THE GSELL LECTURE
John Wilcken SJ
THE ALICE SPRINGS ADDRESS AND THE CONCEPT OF NATION
THE ADDRESS OF POPE BENEDICT ON FAITH AND REASON
DEMONISING AUSTRALIA'S CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM ARABS IN CARTOONS
WHAT'S IN A NAME? PART II: 'ORDAINED' AND 'LAY APOSTOLATE'
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS FROM AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
on the Gsell lecture
I GIVE THANKS firstly to God for all the Religious and Lay Missionaries
of the past and present.
I am a Territorian and person of Aboriginal descent and I have received
the faith through the labours of the early missionaries down in Central
Australia which enabled my mother and grandmother to receive the Catholic
It is difficult to say all I would like to say in the short time I have
been given to respond so I need to get straight to the point.
One of the things that has completely confused me with the Church has
been the connection of Christianity to Dreamtime. So, your comment Fr.
Martin that nowadays we profit from the perceptive investigations of anthropologists
and that we are bewitched by the Dreaming is what grabbed my attention
in your paper.
It would appear from Pope John Paul IIs address to the Indigenous
Australians in Alice Springs in 1986 that this was an affirmation of the
Dreaming. Have the anthropologists lead the Church into affirming a set
of beliefs quite different from Christianity and to uniting the two as
one? Does this help us come to know the truth about Jesus?
Some indigenous Christians with connection to Dreamtime beliefs, law and
culture with the help of non-indigenous religious appear to have accepted
to unite the two beliefs, whilst others choose to reject one or the other.
Many indigenous Christians who have lost connection to Traditional Aboriginal
beliefs and culture are trying to connect to the culture and at the same
time are not very well instructed in the Christian faith and it becomes
obvious that there exists confusion in how to live these beliefs out.
I believe the Church in doing this has undone some of the work of the
early missionaries in bringing people into a relationship with Jesus by
practically saying you can belong to the Church and retain your Traditional
Aboriginal beliefs and this in effect has almost made Jesus irrelevant
and this has been reflected in some of the views and practices of some
of both my indigenous brothers and sisters and non-indigenous religious
that I have encountered within the Church and Ill share on some
of these shortly.
The early missionaries believed there was a difference between Aboriginal
Religion and Christianity and some regard this to have been uninformed
judgements. However their views would certainly have been influenced by
Jesus words himself (Mark 16:15) when he told his disciples to Go
throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.
Did Jesus make a mistake? Why would he tell his disciples to go to the
ends of the earth if those at the ends of the earth already knew the truth?
Both Aboriginal Religion and Christianity contain a set of beliefs which
govern the way of the life of the believers. As these beliefs have been
united and are worked out in the Christian faith and worship there appears
to me to be a need for guidance and direction from the Church Religious
leaders to the indigenous people.
You would all be aware of the differences in the beliefs:
Dreaming beliefs offer eternal life here on earth. Each indigenous persons
place is secured through their place of birth. This belief convinces people
that their place of belonging is to the land.
Christianity offers eternal life with the Creator whose Kingdom we are
told by Jesus (John 18:36)
does not belong to this world
Each persons place is prepared and awaits them because of their
faith in Jesus. In John 17:16 Jesus says Just as I do not belong
to the world, they do not belong to the world.
The Dreaming spirituality is a connectedness to the spirit/s which dwells
in the land where the spirits of the ancestors are forever present in
some form in nature. There appears to be some differences of interpretation
of these beliefs and some believe it to be a connection to the spirits
of the ancestors.
Christianity offers a spirituality of connecting to the unseen Creator
through the Son through whom the Holy Spirit is given to dwell in the
hearts of the believers.
Some indigenous people keep saying we have a deep and rich spirituality.
Didnt Jesus say blessed are the poor in spirit? Does one belief
give a sense of security that you have the past, the present and the future
all before your eyes in the things of creation? Doesnt our Christian
spirituality bring us into recognition of our need and total trust in
Jesus to bring us into the unseen kingdom which awaits us?
Is it a part of Christianity for a follower of Jesus to address their
prayers to the spirits of the ancestors?
Is the intention of the smoking ceremony used in Christian worship supposed
to be connected to leaving people with a sense of being cleansed and forgiven?
That was one non-indigenous mans response after having experienced
a smoking ceremony at an Aboriginal Catholic Ministry.
Is it Christian to pray for healing with spirit guides?
These things happen and it seems people dont know any different.
I can see parallels between what has happened within the Church with indigenous
peoples and some of the encounters Jesus had with people.
In John 4:22 Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman. This woman and her
people believed they knew God and that they were worshipping him. Jesus
said to her: You Samaritans do not really know whom you worship;
because it is from the Jews that salvation comes.
Jesus own people rejected Him and believed that they knew God and
yet they did not accept that Jesus was the way, the truth and the life.
When Indigenous Christians claimed we already knew God and had a connection
and relationship with the Spirit of God through the Dreaming are we not
rejecting Jesus as the one who brings us into relationship with the
Father and opens the way to eternal life with the Creator?
Some of my perceptions are that some people have almost excluded Jesus
in the connecting of the beliefs and overlook the fact that as Christians
the relationship is with Jesus and that he is the one we are following.
A Catholic nun presented a paper at a conference I attended last year.
She seemed to be of the opinion that as Church we didnt need to
give indigenous Australians theology courses or do anything for them except
leave them alone because they have it all in what they have. She was also
of the opinion that whether indigenous people lived in remote or urban
towns and cities they were true to their culture and never changed. She
had in the past lived in a remote community in the Northern Territory.
Indigenous and non-indigenous people have portrayed our people as having
the ideal culture and perfect connection to the Spirit of God through
the Dreaming. One indigenous Christians account is that we lived
in perfect harmony with God and one another and had no sin.
A leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal down south told me that he
offered to do a school of evangelization with the Aboriginal Catholic
Community. The reply was no, we have the message stick. The Word of God
was rejected in favour of the message stick. Indigenous people will all
gather in Alice Springs in October for the National Aboriginal & Torres
Strait Islander Catholic Council Assembly and it will be interesting to
see whether the messages conveyed on the message sticks from all around
Australia come from the gospel or are messages about culture. How culturally
appropriate is the message stick today when everyone is walking around
with mobile phones texting one another?
There are many aspects of culture that are contrary to Christian beliefs,
e.g. sorcery, cursing and pay-back are still alive and active in our communities.
The Church today appears to remain silent on some of the negative aspects
of culture that the early missionaries addressed. People need to be instructed
on what is accepted and what needs to be renounced and then it is their
free choice to accept or reject Christianity. It hurts the whole body
if some are engaging in practices which some in the Church perceive to
be harmful and draws criticism from outsiders as to what we as a Church
are all about.
We touch the surface level of external cultural practices within the Church.
Some are concerned about whether the chalice and paten are culturally
appropriate whilst at the same time some indigenous people refuse to receive
Communion from particular Eucharistic Ministers for cultural reasons and
some would not be able to help particular relatives that might be hurt
lying by the roadside due to their cultural beliefs.
Enculturation was introduced to help make the worship more meaningful
to the people of the culture. However, this seemed to come at a time when
the peoples of the culture had already been introduced to and influenced
by the dominant Australian culture. Cultures do change. There exists a
great diversity amongst the indigenous people of Australia. What may be
the lived experience of some who have connection to Traditional Aboriginal
culture and ceremony may not be the lived experience of others. Many are
concerned about whether cultural expressions are evident within our indigenous
Church worship but at the same time outside the Church in secular life
for many we are disconnected to the traditional Aboriginal culture but
borrow aspects of the culture to make the worship more cultural.
We are happy to see language, art, song and dance included in the liturgy.
It is great, but, what about the brokenness, pain and suffering in families
and communities. Often the result of the culture we live in and although
this may have some roots from the impact of our history we need to accept
our personal sinfulness which causes pain and suffering to ourselves,
our families and communities.
I asked some students what was in their culture today and they said suicides
was a part of their culture. One indigenous Catholic woman related that
her husband wanted to bring a second wife into the marriage.
After Vatican II in trying to rectify mistakes of the past in relation
to culture we appear to want to leave people in the comfort of their culture
and the gospel is not challenging things in the culture because as Church
we seem to have the attitude that all is good in the culture. The pendulum
has swung so far in the opposite direction from where it was with the
early missionaries and it needs to find a point of balance or the Church
buildings in some places will become venues for promoting culture while
the faith aspect takes a back seat.
Our early missionaries copped a lot of criticism especially from outside
the Church. They were not perfect. None of us are. Some people left the
Church with bitterness and anger because of their experiences. But, because
of these missionaries some of our indigenous people still remain connected
to the Church and have a deep love for Jesus and the Church. Through them
we received the faith. We need to ensure that it is the faith we continue
to give and not just expect to see aspects of culture in the Church worship
but people living the faith in the culture, and to live the faith we need
to know what that faith is.
Just going to Mass each Sunday and a little catechetical instruction in
preparation for the Sacraments isnt going to keep us growing and
deepening in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus. As Religious you
receive ongoing training and education to keep you growing. Our indigenous
adults need to have ongoing Christian education and training too.
It seems to me like the Church has almost done the reversal of what happened
in the beginning with the early missionaries and are saying to the indigenous
people, what we took away from you and interrupted in your beliefs and
culture, take it all back and you can have Christianity as well. In doing
this we have in a kind of way become the spoilt ones who can have it all.
But in having it all we are not going to grow or know who we are following
if the faith aspect is neglected in being provided as ongoing development
for our indigenous people.
Lorraine Erlandson is a Staff Member at Nungalinya