The Prophet of Redfern

ABC TV Compass Program
Friday April 14 2006

It was lovely to see Ted again, his kindly face, quick intelligence, his compassion in spades, his capacity to recognise the life transforming moments in the everyday. Nurtured by the insights of poets and other artists, and ever attentive to the stories and needs of people he’d just met or knew well, Ted had the imagination, compassion and maturity to inspire. He built loving and trust-filled relationships.

There were lots of things the show didn’t touch on, including Ted’s love of Baxter’s poetry and his capacity to bring history alive. It would also have been great to hear again his rich and resonant voice singing.

Ted had an extraordinary facility to build relationships and to use words. But he also worked at these things. He made the effort to think and reflect on the Bible in the light of interpretations by the most vigorous theologians. He did not inflict on his parishioners inept rehashings of Gospel readings, bereft of insight and relevance for our lives today.

Subsequent experience would suggest, however, that people who lack the capacity to empathise with others, to accept themselves as they are, to comprehend symbols, to understand theological debate, to commit to justice, to take any interest in local culture, or to be, in Ted’s words, ‘evangelised’ by Aboriginals – such people see Ted-like qualities as aberrant and fundamentally frightening. Ted’s theology was always challenging, but it is quite something to see what happens when it hits the raw nerve of those who espouse a “theology” of sin, misery and damnation.

The challenge is to be resolute in our focus on compassion, justice and creativity and not be distracted by the naysayers.

Would that Compass had the wherewithal to investigate the impact of new fundamentalist sects on parish life around Australia. Were it to include Redfern, it might also contrast the robust effort Ted Kennedy put into supporting Bob and Sol Bellear, Shirley Smith and others into trying to secure The Block in the early 1980s, with the piously apolitical refusal of the new parish priests to support current efforts by Indigenous and other people to save the Block from the Redfern Waterloo Authority’s whitewash.

Ted could act the ass on occasion, but he didn’t play act when it came to the things that mattered.

It would seem that Pell’s pp’s could not care less if the values of the so-called ‘Prophet of Redfern’ were eclipsed by those seeking profit at the expense of the wider Redfern community.

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