Redfern parish moves from tears to cheers with their rock of Gibraltar


Emotional day … Linda Kemp cried as she was blessed by the parish priest
of St Vincent’s for her trip to Rome. Photo: Kate Geraghty, SMH

It took eight men to move it, but in doing so they lifted a spiritual weight from the shoulders of a congregation.

Parishioners at St Vincent’s Catholic Church in Redfern, inspired by the coming canonisation of Mary MacKillop, defied their parish priest and returned a baptismal font to its original place in the church baptistery.

The act of rebellion followed a ceremony to bless four Aboriginal parishioners who will travel to Rome for the canonisation on October 17.


St Vincent’s parishioners celebrated the return of sacred stones
for a baptismal font. Photo: Kate Geraghty, SMH

In the 1870s, sisters from Mary MacKillop’s Josephite order of nuns are thought to have exposed a priest guilty of paedophilia, and in 1871 she suffered temporary excommunication by the church for standing up for her beliefs. St Vincent’s parishioners said yesterday they had decided the ceremony was the right time to stand up for theirs.

"This is a very, very significant moment for us and for the indigenous and non-indigenous people who had their children baptised here," Catherine De Lorenzo said.

The font is made up of three large slabs of Australian trachyte that comes from Mount Gibraltar, near Bowral, at a site considered sacred to Aborigines.

It has been a source of tension since it was removed by the parish priest, Father Clesio Mendes, about 18 months ago and dumped at the back of the church with spare furniture. Before that it was used for more than 30 years for baptisms.

Shireen Malamoo, who will travel to Rome on October 13, waited until the end of the ceremony to petition Father Mendes to allow the font to be moved back to its original spot.

This provoked cheers from the congregation and the priest’s reaction could not be heard. But before he left the church he said he had not consented. "If we bring it forward we have to make it a new shape," he said. "It doesn’t look like a baptismal fountain."

Ms Malamoo said Father Mendes, who has been parish priest since April 2007, does not understand the parish. "He refuses to talk to the people, to negotiate," she said.

Parishioners have written to the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, who said he hopes the matter can be resolved amicably with Father Mendes.

He doesn’t get it!

Comment by the Church Mouse
The parish priest of Redfern, a native of Brazil and member of the ultra-conservative Neocat sect, just doesn’t get it.

The Baptismal Font, commissioned by the late Fr Ted Kennedy, had been a symbol of reconciliation for nearly forty years.

Removing it might have been an act of ignorance, but refusing to re-instate it is an abuse of clerical authority apparently sanctioned by the Archdiocese.

Removing it again, or making it into a "new shape" would be an act of desecration.

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