Redfern – a message shared

The gospel message that was lived in the community of Redfern was shared with the world beyond. I first met Ted Kennedy in 1970 when he came to Queensland to give a pre-ordination retreat. That encounter changed my life.

By living in Redfern Ted had begun to view the world from the perspective of the excluded. When he shared the gospel from that perspective old beliefs were destroyed and new ones were born. After seven years of study, during those few days, the gospel lived in a way I had never before imagined and I began to know a Jesus who was previously obscured.

One vivid memory of that retreat was Ted speaking of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. I had previously seen her as the “beneficiary” of Jesus’ kindness, lucky to be recognized, forever to be grateful. Yet Ted spoke of that meeting as dangerous for Jesus because he was making it clear that his message was for women, for all races, for those considered immoral, for the non-accepted. By including the excluded Jesus challenged the powerful hypocrites and would pay the ultimate price. Yet there was no other way, then or now.

Ted remained through the years a mentor, teacher and friend. I visited Redfern occasionally and met people like Mum Shirl who invited constant conversion to the Jesus of the poor. My journey eventually led to Chile and Peru, to Christian communities like Redfern that had opted for the poor. There I met many other living saints, courageous men and women, who lost their lives because they believed and were dangerous for other powerful hypocrites.

After twenty years I left the priesthood. The “ex” tag moved me to new margins but while I felt the silence of many former colleagues Ted and Redfern welcomed me.

Ted’s upside down vision continues to live in many places as those, like me, who have glimpsed it have gone on their different ways. Once it has been received it can never be taken away.

It reminds me of a Chilean woman who was speaking publicly of her memories of the three years when Salvador Allende was President of Chile. She said, “It was a time when we were recognized and respected. We were treated as people then. The military dictators have brutally taken that away but they can never destroy the truth I felt and knew. That time was the little summertime of the poor and it lives today in my heart.”

Whatever happens in the future the truth of Ted and the Redfern community will live in many hearts and I for one will be forever grateful.

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