Vale, Ted Kennedy

Word has come that a great man has gone to God.

Father Ted Kennedy is at last at rest. He died in the small hours of today in a cold, white Concord Hospital bed far from the Aboriginal people of Redfern he served so well. But Ted will always be in their thoughts. They have lost their sweetest singer, their great champion, a Jesus-figure who stood beside them in all their joys and sorrows, deaths in custody, police raids, drug problems, lousy health and poverty of a kind known only to our indigenous people.

All my troubles, Lord, soon be over…

I can still see in my mind’s eye Ted standing before the people of Redfern, looking slightly rumpled in his clerical gear, telling them how the Paracelete reminded him of a mother bird calling to her young. What a lovely thought.

You see, Ted, though a very well-read man, was never a snob.

Top-down ways were not his ways. Rather I’d say he was a down-up priest: those who held ecclesial power and had closed minds learned to fear his utterances.

If you were a boring fool, Ted’d let you know, no matter how high up the hierarchy you stood.

He was the opposite of your average priest. Instead of worrying about building a new presbytery or office Ted cared about people. His Redfern church always looked so drak that I itched to reach for a scraper or a paint brush.

Quite a few people died in that church. To understand it, you have to go back to the early days of our Church, to the catacombs. Ted’s church was not a place for feel-good Sundays. It was not for the faint-hearted either. People went off their rockers with grief, or died there.

The places of death and birth are holy to Aboriginal people, so Ted did not cover the spot with carpet. In any case, he was more concerned about renovation of people than buildings.

Perhaps that’s why some people who hold power did not understand him. What they took seriously he never did. What he took seriously was human dignity, justice and the overcoming of oppression, the compassion of the poor for the poor.

In some countries I think they would have taken Father Kennedy out and shot him. Here, the rich and the pious tried to ignore him and his power-to-the-people kind of theology and pastorality. It didn’t work.

Today Redfern stands hushed and thankful for a great man.

Cliff Baxter
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