The Divine Word Missionaries are extending their ministry in Central Australia, especially their outreach to Aboriginal communities, at the invitation of the Bishop of Darwin, Charles Gauci.
Bishop Gauci recently spent time staying with the SVD communities in Alice Springs and Santa Teresa, listening to their needs and meeting the people.
“I’m very grateful to the SVD for making themselves available for ministry in Central Australia,” he said after his visit.
“The SVD now have a mandate from me for mission to the Aboriginal people in Central Australia even beyond their current missions in Alice Springs and Santa Teresa,” he said.
The Divine Word Missionaries will also cross diocesan borders, having now been given co-responsibility for the pastoral care of people at Uluru, which lies in the Port Pirie Diocese, but is geographically closer to the SVD in Central Australia.
Bishop Gauci has also agreed to provide a mobile home or caravan to be used in outreach to smaller Aboriginal communities.
“I’m looking forward to other SVD priests doing ministry in other parts of the Northern Territory,” he said.
Aboriginal Chaplain, Fr Olivier Noclam SVD said it was great to have the bishop come and spend time in the more remote Aboriginal communities during his visit.
Fr Olivier took Bishop Gauci to Jay Creek, about 45km west of Alice Springs.
“When we got there, a lot of the people were away at funerals. They don’t attach the same sense of importance to a visit from the bishop, the way some other cultures do,” Fr Olivier said.
“But it was good for the bishop to see that, to see the reality of this place. It’s a place where you can’t make plans. And if you do make plans, you’ll likely have to change them.
“We wanted the bishop to see what we really face in our mission here. People here (the Western Arrernte people) are different from other Aboriginal communities in the north, they move around a lot, so I think it was a bit different from what he expected.
“But it was a good visit. And seeing the reality of our situation helps the bishop to make decisions about our ministry and resources and those kinds of things.”
Fr Olivier and assistant chaplain Fr Alfonsus Nahak SVD would normally visit up to five Aboriginal camp communities around Alice Springs each week, as well as more remote communities located about 300km always. They will now drive the 500km to Uluru once a month to care for the people there.
While in Alice Springs, Bishop Gauci spent time with the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish, hearing how the parish community, led by Parish Priest Fr Prakash Menezes SVD and Assistant Priest Van Bang Nguyen SVD, have supported one another during the COVID-19 church closures and beyond.
“Bishop Charles also attended the Year 12 retreat here and celebrated Mass with the young people at Ross River and I know that the students really appreciated him spending that time with them,” Fr Prakash said.
“He wanted to meet as many people as possible and he celebrated all the weekend Masses while he was here. He spent a lot of time listening to different people and hearing their different perspectives.
“We couldn’t have any big morning teas while he was here unfortunately because of the pandemic restrictions, but we had a small dinner with him and our SVD community before he left.
“He told us he was very grateful that we are serving in his diocese, in the Central Region and is asking us to extend our ministry to other places, like Tennant Creek.”
Also while he was in the region, Bishop Gauci installed Fr Elmer Ibarra SVD as parish priest at Santa Teresa, an Aboriginal community about 90 km from Alice Springs.
The people of Santa Teresa presented Fr Elmer with a hand-painted stole and gave their assent to Fr Elmer becoming their pastor.
Bishop Gauci asked them: “People of Santa Teresa, will you receive Fr Elmer as he takes on the pastoral care of this community. Teach him your culture and language and help him to bring you language and culture into the liturgy. Pray for Fr Elmer, your Parish Priest, and all the religious in this parish, as you grow together in your ministries, and, in all things, try to live together in the peace of Christ?” They responded: “We will”.
Fr Elmer said the installation ceremony was simple and straightforward and beautiful.
Bishop Gauci spent several days at Santa Teresa, going around the parish, visiting the local CatholicCare NT office and also the school, where he celebrated Mass with the students, teachers and staff.
“He also went to the Spirituality Centre and met the Aboriginal artists who were painting crosses and other articles,” Fr Elmer said.
“He visited the police station, the community store and community plant nursery which he loved because he is an avid gardener. And I took him with me to visit sick parishioners as I gave them Holy Communion.”
Bishop Gauci celebrated Mass at local house and also at the local AFL oval for members of the footy team.
The bishop, who was installed as Bishop of Darwin in June 2018, said his visit to Central Australia with the Divine Word Missionaries had been a wonderful experience.
“It opened my eyes further to the day-to-day reality of their mission and I’m thankful for their ministry in this diocese.”