After being postponed twice, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council’s (NATSICC) Assembly will take place in September in Townsville, helping to restore connections that have been significantly challenged over the past two years.
Normally held every three years, the NATSICC Assembly hasn’t been held since 2018 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the announcement of the September 19-23 event has been met with great excitement, according to NATSICC national administrator Craig Arthur.
“Following consultation with communities, it was clear that people needed to come together again to rebuild mental health and friendships, and to plan for the future,” he said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is built upon personal interaction, with communication taking place beyond words and encompassing expressions, movements and eye contact. COVID-19 restrictions have been hard on all people, but they have been particularly challenging for First Australians.”
The Assembly, which will focus on the theme “Holy Spirit in this land”, will be offered in a hybrid format, with an online component available in addition to in-person participation at St Patrick’s College in Townsville.
Mr Arthur said he’s hoping for at least 200 participants from around the country to come together to “celebrate the ways in which the world’s oldest continuing culture interacts, augments and enhances Catholic faith”.
“It is a unique gathering that also welcomes those that are working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics, or those wanting to be immersed in and learn more about culture,” Mr Arthur said. “It is reconciliation in action.”
The five-day event will include a range of workshops, presentations and reflection time. While some details are still being finalised, Mr Arthur said the program would include a Torres Strait spirituality session, an Uluru Statement from the Heart presentation, prayer sessions hosted by communities across Australia and a coastal walk at the Jezzine Barracks in Townsville while hearing stories from local community members.
A youth program will also run simultaneously with the Assembly, allowing youth participants to build leadership skills and also learn from elders each day.
“It is an extremely important event for First Australian Catholics, not only due to the networking opportunities and chance to share their stories, but the speakers and workshops are designed to build the capacity of our people to lead and become more empowered to help others,” Mr Arthur said.
With more than 135,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics spread throughout Australia, Mr Arthur said a national gathering such as the Assembly would greatly benefit individuals, communities and ministries that are isolated or small in number.
“The opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics to come together for the Assembly is an occasion to shares stories, positive experiences and challenges,” he said.
“The NATSICC Assembly is a celebration of the gifts that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples bring to the Church in Australia. It is an expression of an authentic Australian Catholic Church that combines the rituals and symbols of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with that of the Catholic tradition.”
For more information about the NATSICC Assembly, visit www.natsicc.org.au/2022-assembly.html.
This article first appeared in the June 2022 edition of The Bridge, the newsletter of the National Centre for Evangelisation. Reproduced with permission.