The tiny indigenous community of Titjikala in Central Australia celebrated recently when two local teenagers returned home from boarding school in Alice Springs to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Fr Bosco Son SVD, parish priest of Santa Teresa Parish, which takes in Titjikala, says the two young women, Shatona Campbell and Marlene Dinnie, were treated as heroines when the community came together to be a part of the Confirmation ceremony.
“We had been waiting for more than a year-and-a-half to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation at Titjikala, which is almost two hours drive from Santa Teresa, along dusty bush roads,” Fr Bosco says.
“The reason I couldn’t do it earlier was that the two young ladies were at boarding school in Alice Springs. They could have been confirmed in Alice Springs or Santa Teresa, but they chose not to be, as they wanted to join their own community at Titjikala.”
Fr Bosco says Shatona and Marlene’s family made real efforts to help them be ready for Confirmation and were overjoyed on the day.
“Of course, other family members also attended this special Sacrament joyfully and were proud of these two young ladies, even though some of them were not Catholics,” he says. “It seemed to me it didn’t really matter to them which branch of Christianity they belonged to. They came together to celebrate as being a family member and children of God.”
Fr Bosco says the Santa Teresa parish, which normally inhabits the ‘Red Centre’ has been turned into the ‘Green Centre’ over this past summer, due to unexpected rains, which also brought an onslaught of snakes, including one which visited the Presbytery.
“Anyway, despite the weather, there has been much activity at Santa Teresa, with builders, contractors, electricians and plumbers building new houses and renovating old ones,” he says.
“Fortunately, Santa Teresa now has a few new houses. However, they are not sufficient to allow parishioners to live comfortably. Houses are still packed with people and it is a sad thing to see people struggling at Santa Teresa in this way.
“The major issues in remote Aboriginal communities are still the lack of housing and chronic unemployment.”
Meanwhile, Fr Bosco recently travelled to Mount Waverly in Melbourne at the invitation of the Korean Catholic Community to give a Lenten talk on the Aborigines of Central Australia.
“I realised I was the only Korean priest who is ministering in the Aboriginal community in Australia, so it was important for me to give them some information about the Aborigines in the Korean language,” he says.
“My first impression was that many of them had no idea of the first settlers of this land. Others knew a little bit about the Aborigines, but they were prejudiced by mass media, but during the presentation, many times, I heard their sighs and saw their faces changed.”
Fr Bosco shared with the Korean community his experience of school immersion programs, where groups of school children from across Australia come to stay in Santa Teresa for a week to explore and encounter the local Aborigines and their culture.
“It’s a huge challenge for them to come and stay with us for a week without their family,” he says. “Some of them weren’t able to cope, and returned home early. All of them might have felt difficulties, but most of them opened their hearts and minds to accept the reality of where they were.”
Fr Bosco shared the story of one visiting school girl who asked him, “Why are Australians still talking about differences between the Aborigines and non-Aborigines? Why don’t we talk about similarities between them so that we can work together?”
“I learn from each school group and respect them being with us,” he says. “That’s why I can see hope for the future.”
Fr Bosco says that following his presentation, the Korean community showed compassion towards the Aborigines and asked for them to be treated equally.
He said Lent was the perfect season to think about what we can do to help our indigenous brothers and sisters.
“It is the greatest time to show our love, compassion, concern for others, as well as to realise that we have sufficient things for sharing with others who need our help – not only our financial support, but also our prayers.
“All of us know that we are all born to love and to be loved.”