Every year, Catholics come together across Australia to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts of Australia’s First Peoples in the Catholic Church. This year, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) have adopted the NAIDOC theme for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday (4 July): “Heal Country”.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis called us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. This year is particularly important following the COVID 19 Pandemic and its impact on the ways in which we interacted and made contact with one another.

The NATSICC liturgy team has prepared a resource booklet that includes prayers, liturgy suggestions, homily notes and statistics that will enhance and enrich local celebrations. Additionally, there is a practical activity that calls for Catholics around Australia to knit or crochet blankets for the NATSICC Palliative Care package program.

NATSICC reminds us that while Christianity in Australia goes back more than 200 years, the Spirit of God was poured out onto the original inhabitants of this great Southern Land many, many thousands of years prior. God’s Spirit could be heard through the singing of the birds, the cascade of the waterfall, the rustle of the wind and, most importantly, in silence.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM, a respected Ngangiwumirr Elder, educator, artist and 2021 Senior Australian of the Year, explains the importance of listening and understanding the silence:

‘My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all. It is easy for me to experience God’s presence. When I am out hunting, when I am in the bush, among the trees, on a hill or by a billabong; these are the times when I can simply be in God’s presence. My people have been so aware of Nature. It is natural that we will feel close to the Creator.’

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are inextricably connected to country in Australia and its waters. This connection to country and all of God’s creation is core to their spirituality as a people and that of their ancestors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have longed to share their knowledge and wisdom about the seasons, animals, and flora. On this special Sunday, a day where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-indigenous Catholics come together, it is a reminder that all are united in the fight to save God’s creation. The knowledge that First Australians bring, partnered with the technology borne of Western culture, will help to ensure that future generations shall have the opportunity to experience the gifts of God’s creation as intended.

To sit, talk, and listen is the first step towards acceptance and understanding. May we remember this as we celebrate this year’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday.

Adapted from the NATSICC website