Parishioners have been asking the parish priest for a clear statement of his position on the Aboriginal Mural since rumours of its impending removal began to circulate. On one occasion, when particularly pressed, he reluctantly said he would not remove the Mural, but added, sotto voce, that someone else might.
Just before the Parish Advisory Committee meeting last month, a petition was hurriedly circulated around the local Aboriginal community. It read:
Save the Mural – September 2013
Petition to Fr Melvin Llabanes, Parish Priest of St Vincent’s Redfern
We Aboriginal people respectfully request that you have the St Vincent’s mural repaired and restored before it suffers any further damage.
We are deeply concerned that the Mural commemorating pope john Paul II’s challenging words spoken in Alice Springs in 1986 is rapidly deteriorating. We are even more concerned by the ever increasing rumours that the Mural is to be removed.
Copies were sent to Cardinal George Pell and the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, with this covering letter:
26 September 2013
Re: Save the Mural
Last week Fr Melvin Llabanes indicated to several parishioners of St Vincent’s Redfern that he wants to remove the Aboriginal Mural commemorating the words Pope John Paul II spoke at Alice Springs in 1986. By way of justification he is citing the alleged opinions of 5 Aboriginal people, some of whom, he claims, find the words quoted inappropriate (!?), and a report on the church prepared by Fr Don Richardson.
Fr Stephen Hackettt has quite a different opinion, referring to the symbolic value attached to the mural, which conveys more than the message of its words by signifying the hopes of Indigenous Catholics – and of many others in the Australian Catholic community – for the Church that ‘Jesus wants us to become’. Moreover, Bl. JPII will soon be sainted: would the mural and his words be under threat if they were not about Aboriginal and TSI peoples?
So strong is the feeling amongst Redfern Aboriginals that their voices might be heard at this evening’s Parish Advisory Committee meeting that over 80 of them signed the Save the Mural petition in 5 days. A copy is enclosed.
I beseech you to reign in Fr Llabanes before it is too late!
The following reply from the Archdiocese was sent to several people who had written expressing concern over changes to the fabric of the church proposed or already made.
Last Sunday the parish priest denied having heard from the Cardinal. He was to leave for an extended home visit to the Philippines on Monday.
Who does one believe?