Our story of faith ‘through the eyes and hearts of Indigenous Christians’

By Melbourne Catholic

On Sunday 3 July, a special Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday and marked the beginning of NAIDOC Week, when we are invited to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Indigenous peoples of Australia have a special relationship with the living world that has both a physical and a spiritual dimension. In his homily, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli noted that every culture, since the foundation of the world, has used familiar images to convey what is truly human:

The Indigenous Peoples of Australia have found deep meaning in the things around them and, from them, ways of conveying the Christian faith. Chief among these things has been the serpent, but not in a predominantly negative way. It is a symbol of the Creator of all—the life-giving Spirit.

At the Mass, Sherry Balcombe, a Djabaguy-Okola woman and a member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), was presented with the 2022 NATSICC Service to the Community Award. Sherry has been an integral part of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Melbourne for almost 20 years, including as the Coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria. The award recognises those who have not only supported their communities but also shared the gifts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the Australian Catholic Church.

Teresa Rhynehart, Director of Mission at the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, celebrated Sherry’s contribution to the Church:

Sherry has provided education and cultural understanding to thousands of school students through the Fire Carrier Program. She is well known for her pastoral and spiritual care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in aged care, mental health facilities and social services. Sherry is highly regarded for her depth of faith, her ability to share and teach, and her sense of humour and down-to-earthness.

In her Acknowledgement of Country, Sherry hailed the members and Elders of the local Aboriginal community and their Ancestors:

[I] acknowledge their living culture and the unique role in the life of this Country. We have lived in the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit since there was a land bridge between the Mainland and Tasmania. Our people walked that bridge. We are the oldest, longest continuing culture in the world today—something for us all to be very proud of. We are born of the Spirit of this Country. It is where we were conceived. It is our home. It is where we belong.

Illuminated by the rays of the sun filtering through the stained-glass windows, a selection of culturally significant items had been gracefully arranged before the lectern, including large Rosary beads, clapsticks, a message stick, the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag.

Archbishop Comensoli sent forth the people of God to become labourers in the Lord’s harvest, producing life in abundance and telling the story of our faith ‘through the eyes and hearts of Indigenous Christians’.