St Vincent’s Takes a Stand

I’m going to break my own rule about publishing other people’s photos to offer this picture of ceremonies celebrated at St. Vincent’s Church in Redfern last Sunday. If the photographer, Lee Besford, or the Sydney Morning Herald objects, it’s gone. But in the meantime, I can’t resist sharing it with you.

The full story is available on the SMH website, but here’s the brief version. Over the weekend, a group of parishioners entered the Church and painted the mural on the wall that you see behind Father Frank Brennan. As I wrote in my Sorry Day post, the Redfern Catholic community has been saddled since the retirement of Father Ted Kennedy with priests of the Neo-Cathecumen movement. In ministering to their Redfern flock, they had the brass to suggest that Sorry Day was an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to apologize to Australia for all the trouble they’ve caused the country. (The story was originally posted on the Church’s blog, though it’s no longer there, and the site itself sadly hasn’t been updated since then. I ask myself if I’m just paranoid….) [Update, August 25: I had a bad link to the Church Mouse blog. The blog is still being updated with news of the parishioners’ ongoing quest for reconciliation. I’ve fixed the link in the previous sentence so that it now points to the active blog and not the archive. Thanks to Len De Lorenzo of St Vincent’s for setting me straight.]

Father Prindiville, the neo-Cathecumen parish priest, is upset by the vandalism and the “break-in” that brought it about. The report is that he sat stiffly and obviously unhappily throughout Sunday’s service, in which Father Brennan preached on the story of the loaves and fishes, asking “This big mob, how can they be fed? This big mob, how can they be reconciled?” Father Prindiville, of course, understands the source of the whole problem, which is that “people won’t accept any sort of authority. They have been used to doing their own thing for so long.”

Of course, the words on the wall come from Pope John Paul II’s address to indigenous people in Blatherskite Park in Alice Springs on November 29, 1986. So it seems like the congregation doesn’t totally turn its back on authority. Maybe just on authoritarians. The Pope’s speech is available online, and you should check out the site, if only to see the picture of the Pope in a beanie–the Alice Springs version, not the ecclesiastical kind. Actually, the speech itself isn’t bad: he recognizes the Dreaming as indigenous people’s “only way of touching the mystery of God’s spirit,” and speaks out against terra nullius and for land rights (this was in 1986, remember!) And although he concluded on the note that “The old ways can draw new life and strength from the Gospel,” it truly sounds more like an invitation that a commandment.

Generally speaking, I’m right there with Michael Riley on the impact of Christianity: ambivalent at best. Having been raised a Catholic and spent twelve years of my life in their educational system, I think I can judge the Church on good authority. Been there, done that. So I guess I get a personal kick out of seeing the parishioners fight back for their Church, in seeing a community, and an urban one at that, assert itself in the face of attempts to disgrace it and shut it down. Been there, done that, too. The Catholic Church is not my cup of tea, but right on, brothers and sisters! Stand up for your beliefs and your rights!

AddendumThe Australian for August 5 has another, longer, and more-indepth look at the St Vincent’s mural, including remarks by Garry Griffiths, who led the work of painting it. There’s good background on the neo-Cathecumens and a fair amount of noxious commentary by Cardinal Pell. For instance, speaking of changes in the parish’s mission and operations and the de-emphasizing of social services to the parishioners and community he has this to say: “I believe as a serious Catholic that the best thing we can offer to people who are suffering, or in some cases degraded, is religion. There’s no long-term help for anyone in Redfern simply by handing out condoms or syringes or a few bob to clean the church, that’s paternalistic.” So much for loaves and fishes, too.

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