The last straw?

A couple of weeks ago, on Sunday December 2, the Saving Word (Parish Bulletin) issued an "invitation". Beneath the heading "NEW LITURGYCAL COMMITTE"[sic] it suggested that “Anyone interested in being part of the new liturgical committee please contact Fr Clesio". In all, some thirteen applicants responded from the long-term community and of these, the committee was initially made up of the two priests, two neocatechumenal lay persons and three members of the long term community.

The community was acutely aware that no person of Aboriginal descent had been accepted onto the committee. The two that applied have been integral to the life of the St Vincents community, each over a period of many years. The three community members appointed resolved that since the committee was unbalanced and denied welcome and participation to the local Aboriginal community they would all withdraw their support.

Today, Sunday December 16, Elisabeth was rostered to acknowledge the traditional owners – the Gadigal people- on which the church stands, and to introduce the liturgical readings. Instead she was displaced by the Neocat missionary GianPietro, who refused to let her anywhere near the microphone from which he delivered his dozen or so trite words about today’s readings being beautiful. Elisabeth was left no alternative but to acknowledge country in a raised voice from behind the altar.

After the readings Pelle started his homily:

"This reading comes to us with um with great [long pause, as though struggling with the concept] joy they are readings of joy, they are readings of great hope [choked laughter from somewhere in the congregation] that come to us …."

After a few more sentences, some members of the community felt moved to gently sing the refrain from the hymn “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”, which the community traditionally uses in its Good Friday ceremonies. As more voices joined in, Pelle continued his sermon, raising his voice and pouring forth vitriol as he berated the congregation for the "vinigar" and bitterness in its heart.

He then apologised to the Neocats in the congregation, and announced that given the situation both he and Mendes were not going to continue with the Mass. The Neocats then withdrew from the church, but not before a shouted abusive tirade from one of their number, and several heated exchanges.

Fr John Ford followed the parish priest as he left the church and asked whether he minded if he said Mass for the community. Mendes replied "No", and John returned to the church, announcing that Mendes had given him permission to say Mass. He had barely gotten out the words but the Neocat priests’ minders were hot on his heels calling him a liar, insisting that he was not to say Mass, and Pele threatened that the police would be called if he did!

So the community remained in the church and revisited the liturgy of the Word. They concluded their sharing as congregation with a unified recitation of the Our Father and the singing of a hymn.

Afterwards, several people addressed the community. The following is part of what one of the Aboriginal members of the community had to say:

The Neocats have gone on too long with their power games.

They’re just not reaching out to the Aboriginal people as a whole. Just talking to me as one person – I don’t think that’s right. There’s more than one Aboriginal person in the church, and I don’t think Clesio has taken the time out to even sit down and talk to anyone bar me (in four and a half years)

They say that they do this and they do that, and I haven’t yet seen what. As far as goin’ down The Block, goin’ and reaching out to the people down there, trying to get them into the church and that.

Every time I talk to Clesio he thinks it’s a joke, you know, like I’m having a joke with him. I say to him look, I’m not joking, I’m serious about the matters in the church. If you don’t start reaching out, not just to the Aboriginal people, but to the people as a whole in the church, well then we’re not going to get nowhere. Which we are now. We think we’re going one step forward but we’re goin’ ten steps back. And it’s just not working.

I just don’t understand. Like even last week I said why do we have to have two priests in our church? Why two priests? Why can’t one priest handle the job by himself? He said "err".

I’ve said to both of them, I said what are youse afraid of, where there’s always got to be two of you? In the church. Have you got to hold each other’s hand? And there’s no answer.

He doesn’t seem to have no answer for any of the questions that I put to him. He just puts a smile on his face and that’s it. And I walk away shaking my head.
But I’m persistent with him and I keep on putting the same questions to him about the people in the church and he’s got to bend a little bit as we all gotta do that to get somewhere. Like I said, one step forward and ten steps back.

We don’t know how long it’s gonna take – it doesn’t seem like (only) four and a half years years that they’ve been here. I can’t see anything that they’ve done here. When the Neocat women were coming to the Sharing of the Meal they were all taking pictures of it to make themselves look good, saying we do this and we do that.

And the whinging when he spoke one week about how they give out sandwiches and blah blah blah we do this Well I don’t see it done. And I’ve asked people – white people and Aboriginal people …

The community then set about preparing the church for the 5th Annual Christmas Sharing of the Meal on Tuesday December 18.

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