When I was nine years old, a man with a begging bowl chanced to cross my path as I walked through my home- town in England. At that moment I felt deep anger at the indignity of his situation. I silently vowed that I would change the world. That moment has inspired my life. On “finding” Redfern those feelings flooded back. I had always perceived myself as different. At Redfern I came to realise that all of life’s experiences had conspired to fit me for life in an alien world.

It is more than thirty years since Rhonda and I first visited St Vincent’s. I was privileged to experience a community of people who resided in the Presbytery. I recall a busy place where people laughed and cried and cared and shared. I met and witnessed Mum Shirl in full flight in the soup kitchen. It was on that occasion that I met Maureen Watson for whom I have deep and abiding love and respect. With her initial suspicions allayed Maureen physically and spiritually embraced us both. Maureen afforded me one of the most moving experiences of my life as she sat by my side and recited the poem “Woman” during her surprise visit to my home on my birthday.

I attended mass at Redfern and listened for the first time to “Father Ted”. Unconditional love and acceptance permeated the church. I was deeply moved and challenged by Ted’s interpretation of the gospels and the purpose of existence. I felt a sense of “coming home” and a deep comfort in a place where difference is embraced. I ventured on safe in the knowledge that I was “right” because the gospel according to father Ted said so.

As time passed people came to Redfern. Some stayed. Some left. Some tried to change Redfern believing that Redfern was in some way impoverished. The church was painted, experiments were conducted from time to time and the community patiently waited. The “visitors” found their way and the community bounced back.

Time passed, Aboriginal people continued to welcome us and shared with us their pain and their too infrequent joy. I was humbled by my experience. So often I wondered at their tolerance and forgiveness. I sought answers to questions but none were forthcoming.

There were many gatherings on Christmas Day at Centennial Park. “I” needed so much to be part of that experience. Traditionally we had taken photographs but ceased to do so when it became clear that they were solely testament to those whose lives failed before Christmas orbited once more.

Time passed and our Aboriginal friends found other forums for “celebration”. The spirit if Redfern persists unchanged. It derives from the inspiration flowing from the legacy of suffering borne by Aboriginal people who have been physically and spiritually present at Redfern.

No favour is found in “our” community for privilege, permanence, status, power or wealth but simply from “difference”. We are all equal. We are all integral.

Thank you Father Ted for your love, your compassion and your sacrifice. Thank you Father Ted for teaching me to see the world that God envisaged. Thank you Father Ted for giving me the courage to face the daily round and to challenge. For the opportunities that I have had to be enriched by my Aboriginal friends, thank you Father Ted. Thank you Ted. Thank you and God Bless you.

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