Sunday Mass-goers yesterday were saddened to find that the church had been defaced.
The Neocats had acted to remove Jim Considine’s iconic words chalked across the front of St Vincent’s church:
the aboriginal Christ should be free
in his own church
among his own people
What’s new, you might ask – and you’d be right! See The writing on the wall 24 April 2004
And according to custom, the words re-appeared during Mass.
Later, when Mendes had driven everyone out of the church where people normally linger and chat on a Sunday, he and the obedient Miguel emerged from the locked building carrying buckets, and proceeded to again wash the words from the wall.
Revenge, or just vandalism?
Caught in the act
Providentially Aboriginal deacon Frank Cain – who had not been seen around for some time – came walking down Redfern St just after the Neocats had completed their inflammatory act. They had retired to a bench outside the court house further up the street, presumably waiting to catch some evil-doer in the act of restoring the words yet again.
When he was told what had happened, Frank went straight up to confront Mendes. Here is a partial transcript of Frank’s account of that confrontation.
If it wasn’t for Ted we wouldn’t have a church here. When he got sick, it was us, and the white people that come to Mass that got other priests to come and say mass and keep the church going.
I respect your view of theology, be it conservative or not, but you’ve got to respect the people here of Redfern.
The writing on the wall got people to come to mass, the down and out, the sick, the outcasts, and he said it’s grafiti, it’s criminal.
I said does that mean that the Sistine Chapel and all those catholic churches around the world are full of graffiti? If the Italians can do it in bloody Rome we can do it here and he said oh, no, no, they had the Pope’s permission to do it.
There’s writing on all these stained glass windows in latin and there’s writing on the southern wall of this church – is that graffiti as well?
And he said that he would also remove the words from the southern wall – the mural.
What you’re doing to the church is insulting Aboriginal people, Clesio, and it’s not helping in the reconciliation process. Aboriginal people used to come here a lot because of the writing on the walls and because of Ted Kennedy’s preaching and his theology. It’s your theology that’s keeping us away.
He said why don’t you come to mass more often, are you a deacon, and I said yes I am.
Who ordained you, he asked, and this islander woman says how long have you been a catholic? I was born one, like you! (CM – the minders had emerged to check on their priests – Frank now had to contend with 5 or 6 Neocats)
I said this has got nothing to do with you, and I’d like you to keep out of this, it’s an argument between me and the parish priest. and she said but I’m a parishioner, and I said fair enough and I respect that, but this particular debate does not involve you.
And he said I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go, and I said hang on, I just want to make one more point – can you please put that writing back up on the wall, it’s been there for for nearly 10 years, since before you came here.
Clesio also argues that the white parishioners here are using Aboriginal people and I said to him, Clesio, if it wasn’t for those parishioners and the Aboriginal people who come here working together we wouldn’t have this – it’s reconciliation.
He said I’ve got the utmost respect for Aboriginal people, I accept that, please put the writing back on the wall. In the end I was saying please to him, I got tired of arguing.
I said I don’t want to argue with you, Clesio, I respect your views of the church and your interpretation of the Scriptures; there’s a place for your theological and ideological way of thinking within the church structure, but it’s not here. It’s not in Redfern, We have a more open-minded view of the gospel and Christ’s teachings and the eucharist and the sacraments and yours is a more conservative one, and that’s fine.
Oh no, he said, I’m not conservative.
I said, Clesio, you’re the guy who’s keeping us away from it, from Mass – your interpretation of the scriptures is driving us away.
He said that he removed the writing because it was too political. So the church is not political? Where’s this guy been??
I said to him, we don’t go into Spanish churches and write over the latin, or whatever.
Frank Cain with Mendes (seated) and Miguel outside Redfern Courthouse
Hardly a fruitful discussion – Frank heading back towards the Church, Neocats heading ??