SPEAKING at a Reconciliation Day mass, the Bishop of Townsville has described racism as ‘a cancer that eats us up’.
On the 25 anniversary of the event, the head of the Catholic church in Townsville said that Jesus taught people to treat others as they would like to be treated.
Bishop Tim Harris added that in seeking to reconcile history, Australia should listen to its First Nations voices, rather than presuming to know what’s best, as has happened in the past.
The clergyman practiced what he preached – quite literally – by sharing at the start of his homily that he had sought advice from a 14-year-old student from St Teresa’s College, Abergowrie, before speaking at the ceremony.
Jahrahn Neal-Yeatman, who is from Yarrabah near Cairns, described the Bishop seeking his counsel as ‘a powerful moment’.
The 14-year-old was approached by the Bishop after he had played digeridoo at a Townsville Cathedral mass to celebrate 200 years of Catholic education in Australia.
Jahrahn said: ‘I felt very respected and honoured to have the Bishop to come and ask me a question.
‘A man so high in holiness, you’d think I’d be the one to ask him a question.
‘He caught me a bit by surprise – but it was a powerful moment.’
He added: ‘The Bishop said he didn’t want to offend anybody and asked what he should I say when he came up to say mass.
‘When I’d had a chance to think about it, I told him that we must acknowledge the past and inform the present – to change the future.’
Jahrahn reflected on Reconciliation Week, saying: ‘Indigenous people shouldn’t be the ones having a Reconciliation Day. Non-indigenous people should be having a day with us.
‘It’s about a coming together.’
The mass took place at St Teresa’s Chapel in Abergowrie, on Warrgamay country, on 27 May.
The Bishop was painted in clay by Warrgamay traditional owner Michael Ryan and adorned with a traditional headdress before he said mass.
St Teresa’s College is a Catholic boarding school that caters for young First Nations men from communities across Queensland and the Torres Strait.
When addressing the students, the Bishop said: ‘It is a privilege to serve you through providing your education.’
A parishioner of 60 years was honoured after the mass for providing 45 years’ religious instruction to students at Abergowrie State School.
Eva Duffy received the Bishop’s medal for her dedication in providing religious instruction to pupils at the Herbert River Valley school.
Father Damien McGrath, who has been the parish priest for Hinchinbrook for nearly 12 years, said: ‘Even last year, when you only had one student, when most people would have given up, you kept going.
‘You said: ‘That’s one student who deserves religious instruction.’
Father Damien led the congregation in a hearty applause for Mrs Duffy, who after six decades, is leaving Abergowrie with her husband Tom.
National Reconciliation Week was started to create healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
This year’s theme is ‘more than a word’, which urges the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action.
The week includes significant dates in Australian history:
- 26 May marks national Sorry Day, which is observed annually to remember and acknowledge the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities, children we now know as ‘The Stolen Generations’.
- 27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum when Australians voted to remove clauses in the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- 3 June marks the historic 1992 Mabo decision in which the High Court of Australia recognised native title—the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights over their lands did survive British colonisation.
A spokesperson for reconciliation.org.au said: ‘Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians – as individuals, families, communities, organisations and importantly as a nation. At the heart of this journey are relationships between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
‘We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures.’