“You are a part of Australia and Australia is a part of you. And the church and herself in Australia will not be fully the church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others”
Pope John Paul II in Alice Springs 29.11.86
It may be one of the coldest times of the year but Ravina Waldren always warms to the prospect of National Reconciliation Week.
As the Coordinator for the Murri Ministry, Waldren will be doing her all to focus wider community attention on the continuing struggle of indigenous peoples.
Reconciliation Week is traditionally held around the last week of May / Early June.
This year it takes place between May 26 and June 3rd, commencing with the National Sorry Day on May 26 and concluding with Mabo Day on June 3rd.
“Mabo Day is especially important because it means that we’re recognized and acknowledged as First Peoples of the land. After more than 200 years of struggle Australian law was at last coming to grips with pre-existing Indigenous law,” Waldren said.
“I think it’s a great thing that Australia should be celebrating a lot more of.
“If we could have greater recognition through our churches and schools it would be even better because we must remember the commitment of Eddie Koiki Mabo,” she said.
Murri Ministry is a Centacare agency that provides pastoral ministry and spiritual assistance, consistent with Aboriginal culture, tradition and insights, within the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the wider community. It covers areas from Hervey Bay to Tweed Heads and Cherbourg to Stradbroke Island.
Between she and her co-workers at the Murri Ministry, Bernadette Jeffrey and Sr Kay McPadden, they share a combined total of 26 years in the Ministry.
Such durability runs in the family genes though, as Waldren’s family is able to trace their roots back to five generations of Catholics including Irish heritage.
Hardiness is also a pre-requisite for the job as the chief demands on her time are visiting youth’s and adult detention centres or organising Aboriginal funerals.
It is mostly women in Aboriginal ministry through the churches.
“The statistics for South East Queensland show that the average aboriginal male only lives to 45 years.
“In the period between Christmas and the end of January this year we had 36 aboriginal deaths,” she said.
Fortunately for the Murri Ministry that type of workload can now be shared around between the different denominations.
“We work across the board with all the other denominations when it comes time to celebrate someone’s death,” Waldren said.
“Previously the different denominations didn’t co-ordinate so well so there was a big degree of burnout for aboriginal people working in the area of ministry.
“The sharing of resources is the one great thing that we in the Catholic Church are used to doing.
“Now that we see we all work together, and that our biggest commitment is to make sure our people are buried with dignity, there is a great sense of unity amongst us,” she said.
The flipside of the grief witnessed at funerals is the joyous expression at Murri Ministry Baptisms.
Waldren sees these as real cultural experiences that balance both the Christian rite and the dreaming.
“The Priest assistant is in charge, but he involves us in a major way to celebrate the baptism rite with the family,” Waldren said.
“We include the elders, who have an important role, especially with the anointing and the lighting of the light, which incidentally is traditional.
“It’s very special to be able to incorporate art, dancing, aboriginal music and artifacts into the ceremony,” she said.
These days the Murri Ministry is also finding itself more involved in parishes and schools through its work in cultural awareness programs and acknowledgement ceremonies.
Waldren has seen these changes develop from when the Ministry Office first opened in 1993.
“Years ago that would never have happened but people are seeing that we need to have protocols in place, for example to Acknowledge the Aboriginals as the first peoples of this land,’ she said.
“It’s slowly happening but I wonder how much at the school level, which is where we should be having that great impact on the youth of today, who are the future, our tomorrow,” she said.
Waldren says she finds the balance between her religion and her aboriginality a comfortable fit.
“Lots of people ask how we can be very strong in the Catholic faith and still be an aboriginal person in our community,” she said.
“We’ve been brought up to juggle them both with few complications.
“I haven’t had any problems with it but at times we’re out there and we’ve been ridiculed by people saying ‘how can you be a Christian with what the Churches have done to us?’
“It’s really sad to sit down and talk to them about it or walk them through and see how they can be healed, but I try to do it in a cultural and sensitive way,” she said.
The Murri Ministry has been busy of late, arranging for the Sydney launch of its “Gathering of the Voice” publications.
The books, the culmination of a landmark conference held at the old Banyo Seminary in June 2001, were originally launched on the grounds of St Stephen’s Cathedral Brisbane in December 2002.
They contain the conference transcripts, as well as Aboriginal Artwork and a series of twelve recommendations to help the Catholic Church engage with the Aboriginal Community.
The conference was a National Ecumenical gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. We are coming up to the ‘Week of Prayer’ for ‘Christian Unity’ and we are trying to bring that about in our Aboriginal Way.
“The Gathering of The Voices has been our big thing because there’s been a lot of issues arise in the 10 years since I started working here,” Waldren said.
“There are a lot of areas that the Church needs to pick up on and also there’s areas that we as Aboriginal people need to take control of as well, as regards our future and our direction into life.
“In organizing the conference we had a vision and a dream and worked really hard on that and we’re very proud of the outcome.
“I wouldn’t say that everything has been picked up since the recommendations were put forward but at some levels, like the Acknowledgement ceremonies, the Church is addressing it and probably doesn’t even realise it is doing it,” she said.
Murri Ministry will mark its 10th Anniversary in October with a special celebration.
In January last year Archbishop Bathersby asked Fr John Chalmers to oversee Murri Ministry, given Bishop John Gerry’s pending retirement.
“I welcome the changes and the restructuring that have happened, although I was sad to see Bishop Gerry go because he was very supportive of our Aboriginal people,” Waldren said.
“The change has been healthy as well though, and Fr John Chalmers is very responsive and supportive,” she said.
Waldren was in attendance at the recent Synod and managed to talk to several priests about cultural awareness issues in the parishes.
She found that for a lot of the priests the challenge seemed to be too difficult.
“There is still some resistance from our churches here,” she said.
“Sometimes I find the churches are able to accept outside religious beliefs and artifacts but not those of ‘The First People of this land’.
“Still there are a few parishes though, where we have produced a mural to hang in the church, that weaves together the story of the local Murri people and the parish, and it works out really well,” she said.
Waldren has long been committed to the church and Aboriginal community.
If there were one thing she wished for apart from reconciliation it would be a little more time for her own family life.
“You find once you’re working here that you don’t have much spare time,” Waldren said.
“It’s not only a 9 to 5 job, it’s Ministry and that’s the difference.
“When there’s a death in a family it can happen at all hours so you just have to go out and sit down with the family, and then arrange for the funeral service and the burial. I am on 24 hour call from the Detention centres and community.
“It’s imperative that we have a retreat or even just a time to debrief ourselves so as to be able to remain fresh in the Ministry,” she said.
Released by Catholic Communications Office