100 YEARS OF PALLOTTINES IN AUSTRALIA
in the open part of the extensive lawn area. The guests appreciate being in the shade. In the end there are not enough chairs for so many.
At 10.30 am we witness a strange scene. Two men approach carrying a bucket on a rod. It is filled with burning eucalyptus branches. The smoke arising from it stings. One of the men is Ben Taylor from the Catholic Aborigines team. He wears a head band in the colours of black, red and yellow. (These colours remind me of the German national colours which are black-red-gold). Black symbolises the colour of their skin, yellow that of the sun and red that of the earth; some say it reminds them of the blood which was shed. The men carry out a rite of cleansing with great sincerity. They have brought this rite from their ancient culture into the liturgy of the Church. A didgeridoo murmurs its sounds. Ben Taylor approaches the microphone and says a prayer of penance in his mother tongue. Archbishop Barry Hickey and many priests - Pallottines and their guests from other religious communities (Jesuits, Benedictines, Redemptorists) - approach the altar. The Archbishop blesses three bowls of water of which he passes two on to aboriginal women. The three of them walk through the whole congregation passing on the cleansing blessing of greeting.
The solemn Mass has now started in which the Pallottines of Australia together with their friends give thanks for the past 100 years. Hundred years ago to the day the first four Pallottines , Frs. George Walter and Patrick White and Brs. August Sixt and Matthias Kasparek landed at the port of Fremantle, 15 km from Perth. Until today it is the biggest port of Western Australia and a magnet for tourists. Despite their heavy engagement in Cameroun the Limburg province risked starting a new missionary venture in Australia.
Church exists only in Togetherness
Fr. Norbert Hannappel, Provincial, and Fr. Alexander Holzbach had come from Limburg for the jubilee to join in the celebrations and to let themselves be impressed by the work of their confreres over 100 years.
Fr. Michael McMahon, Regional Superior of Pallottines in Australia, preached the sermon. Born in Melbourne, it was through Fr. Walter Silvester that he had come into contact with the Pallottines. At that time there were two slogans on their banner: ‘to build up the Church among the Aborigines of the continent in the spirit of Vincent Pallotti and to recruit and train lay-missionaries among the white population. Fr. McMahon liked what he saw. For nearly 20 years he was to become parish priest for and friend of Aborigines in Broome. So his sermon came from the heart and his enthusiasm was reflected in the eyes of those present.
Taking Aborigines seriously
Every person has his/her own song. White Australians sang the British national anthem on January 1, 1901 and so founded a new sovereign nation. The songs of Aborigines, sung over thousands of years, were not heard. 70 years previously a small man in Rome had initiated a song about the love of God for all people and of the responsibility of all baptized to bring the Gospel alive. Pallottines from Germany, men who had made this song their own, but also other religious men and women, whether they came from Ireland or Austria, came to the 5th continent. They heard the songs, the dreams and the stories of the Aborigines. They took them seriously. They sang for them the songs of Jesus Christ.
Fr. McMahon continued saying that John XXIII confirmed the songs of Vincent Pallotti when he canonised him. He spoke of the charism of unity of this Roman priest which he promoted in the Church. He also reminded us of a sermon of Pope John Paul II in 1986 where he said in Alice Springs: "Only together, Aborigines and Whites, are you the true Church of Jesus Christ in Australia."
Before the final blessing Fr. Hannappel takes the opportunity to say a word of thanks and appreciation. He expresses his gratitude for the invitation and thanks the Australian confreres for their work. He emphasises the great spirit of cooperation between German and Australian Pallottines. A word of thanks also goes to the other religious – especially the Irish Sisters of St. John of God without whom the Pallottines could not have carried out their work. The provincial also thanks the lay missionaries, many of whom had come to Rossmoyne on this Sunday, for their work and continued engagement with our community.
At the end of the celebration the whole congregation moves in the direction of the main street of Rossmoyne. In the area between Pallottine property and the new aged care homes there is a memorial, still covered over. Fr. Butscher blesses and unveils it. The area is now called ‘Limburg Park’. The memorial pays tribute to the efforts of the priests and brothers who had come from Germany who have to help build up the Church in such a young and at the same time such an old continent.
People now move towards the tables offering a variety of salads and to the barbecues with sausages and steaks. Barbecue: favourite pastime of Australians. Many busy hands – mostly those of lay missionaries – have prepared it all beautifully.
"Nothing is wasted in the household of God"
They chat together in happy groups and then go to see a photographic exhibition. Soon some entertainment is offered. The Jubilee cake is cut. A book is launched. Dick Roberts, grand-son of the most famous Aboriginal painter, launches and recommends the extremely well researched 366-page book "Nothing is wasted in the household of God’ by Brigida Nailon CSB. Sr. Brigida had searched all available archives and conducted an infinite number of interviews in order to write this history. The title used for the book goes back to a word from Bishop Raible who believed that nothing would be wasted in the household of God.
The real entertainment is about to start now, organised by Fr. John Luemmen. He is the former director of the Aboriginal hostel at Rossmoyne who later was appointed parish priest of nearby Riverton parish where he now assists Fr. Dean Bradbury. As we would expect he put together a varied programme with an Irish band, the choir of the Rhein-Donau-Club, some Swiss music, songs from Indian migrants and music and dancing by the group Dindima.
The hours pass very fast. Around 5 pm all visitors have left. The area has been cleared. Fr. Joseph Butscher, tired but relieved, enjoys an ‘Australian Bitter’ and says: "It truly was a great celebration!" And he is right!
Click on photo to enlarge
Sketches of a Journey
Outside the croaking of frogs, inside the whirring of a fan. Finally some sleep despite the heat and perspiration. Only this morning we have left Melbourne. A short stop in Perth, then on to Broome. This town was once synonymous with mother of pearl. Today it still has a name in the pearling industry. Broome is the seat of the bishop. The diocese spans the whole of the Kimberley plateau in the north of Western Australia. Somewhat larger than France. Population: 33 000.
The Provincial is interviewed at the ABC studio. A cold drink in the presbytery. An interview with the local paper. By Cessna 150 km to Beagle Bay. Safe arrival at our destination. It is here that the first four Pallottines arrived from Perth ten years earlier. French Trappists had made a start here; they returned home again. We thought we were roughing it flying in Cessna; they had faced much tougher conditions. There were no fans in the sub-tropical Kimberley. We enjoyed our dinner with Sr. Bernadette. This Irish nun arrived here 60 years ago. Dozens of young women like her made their Novitiate in Beagle Bay. What would the Church in the Kimberley have been like without the St. John of God Sisters? Sr. Bernadette has a wonderful gift of telling stories from the good old times, of the Brothers and Priests from Germany. The house of the sisters is a solid building. A stone throw away is an old hut, called the Bishops House. Bishop Raible had lived here. In 1928 he had been appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Kimberley (later called Diocese of Broome). Two rooms. This is poverty!
Fr. Thomas Bachmair built the church in the middle of the bush. For the first time Aborigines made bricks. It is estimated that 30 000 bricks were needed. In 1918 Fr. Wilhelm Droste finished it all off with wonderful decorations made from mother-of-pearl – the altars, the floor. The church is a favourite destination for tourists, especially from Germany. Today we express our thanks for 100 years of Pallottines. The brothers ran a farm with 4000 head of cattle, they had to provide for the people. The Aborigines worked with them. Later also in the lemonade factory. All this is no more.
Fr. McMahon preaches. "It was for you that they came", he says. It is hard for us today to realize just what hardships they endured in order to spread the Word of the Gospel, to build schools and to care for the sick. The faces of the old Aborigines light up. Mr. Cox puts their gratitude into words. Outside they speak about Frs. Albert Scherzinger and Francis Huegel, about Brs. Frank Nissl and Joseph Tautz. Before us is the house of the Pallottines, over there is the former dining room for the children and further on there is the school.
We move to the cemetery and say a prayer for the deceased Pallottines. It is strange that the people don’t want to talk about the fresh grave, that of a young person. Was it suicide? There is silence. There are supposed to be many suicides among young Aborigines. They go to school, but what will they do when they leave school? Bad tongues call it: "sit-down-money". But what about their outlook on life and something to aim for? As a guest I hardly get any answers on questions about yesterday or tomorrow. What is the future of Beagle Bay? Many youngsters have left. There is no answer. Traditions have been lost including the indigenous language.
Barbecue with the family of Philip Cox. The old man displays a deep faith. He is proud to be a Christian. He had worked in Broome. Now he often helps in the church. His daughter is the leader of the clan. We admire his fishpond. Where are the youngsters? Watching television. An important game of cricket is on the programme.
Youth and Church? Shrugging of shoulders. ‘You need not make any excuses, I know it only too well’, says his guest. In the evening Fr. Eugene shows some slides in the community hall. A couple of teachers have turned up. They have come from the Eastern States to Beagle Bay for two or three years. They want to help Aborigines to master their future. Some Aborigines have turned up also, young and old. There is great laughter when they recognise themselves on the screen. Finally we return home to the presbytery finding or way with a huge torch.
Lombadina. A paradise. The trees display their brightest colours. The old church looks neat. The beach is supposed to be beautiful. But now it is off limits. It is the time for the ‘Law’, initiation ceremonies. The elders introduce the young men into the secrets of their tribe. The external symbol of this is the circumcision. Only few have come to the barbecue. One of them sings a German song. Fr. Kriener had been here for a long time. They ask after him. He had shared their lives. He even had gone bush with them for days for the ‘Law’. He knew their stories and songs. Fr. Eugene mentions funerals and anniversaries. These are such important events for the people because family, clan mean so infinitely much to them.
In Derby there are few Aborigines at the Sunday Mass. Many Whites. This town, with a population of 4000, is situated near the mouth of the Fitzroy River. It is an administrative centre. The whites have come from Perth or from the Eastern States to work here for a few years. Fr. Wendelin Lorenz is parish priest here since the seventies, every cat and dog knows him. On weekdays he visits Aboriginal communities out of town heading in the direction of the famous Windjina paintings. Radiating deities without a mouth? Fr. Lorenz appreciates the devotion of Aborigines. And his flock appreciate him. After the solemn Eucharist there is a great official reception. Not surprisingly there is a cake with ‘Thanks for 100 Years of Pallottines’.
All remember Fr. Alphonse Bleischwitz. They mention his hands marked by hard work. One needs a special calling for Balgo. How on earth did Bishop Raible ever find this place? He always took Aborigines with him. They knew where the usual camping places where they could meet people who had never heard of Christ. What loneliness did the brothers have to endure doing the farm work? Br. Engel and Br. Schuengel. A young diocesan priest is parish priest of Balgo now. A new school year is about to begin. Children and classrooms are purified by a smoking ceremony. Brumbies pass by as we drive 15 km into the bush for a pilgrimage to Old Balgo, the place where the mission was founded in 1934. Disputes about property rights and lack of water forced the mission to be shifted. Now the old people reminisce about their childhood. Here was the dormitory, there the church and further on the bakery! They talk with enthusiasm. Today we see these things in a different light. Was it right to separate children, especially half-casts, from their families and have them educated at mission stations? It was the programme of the government. There is no doubt that the schooling and training in various trades were very good. But still! The community of Aborigines in Balgo seems to be better intact than in other places. The Aboriginal language is spoken here. The parish supports Aboriginal art and songs. But still the guitar seems to be more fun than the traditional wooden sticks. We have breakfast with Fr. Matthew Digges. Do you believe in the future of the Church in Australia? The young and usually very agile priest gives his answer after some serious thought. He is concerned about the progress of secularisation in white as well as in Aboriginal society. They are less and less interested in God. But he maintains that his work is not in vain. He adds in a convincing manner: "I also believe in the Holy Spirit".
After a visit to Halls Creek and Kununurra with its Vincent Pallotti Church we return to Broome. At the Notre Dame University the Pallottines hand over a scholarship to a young Aboriginal woman. Fr. McMahon emphasises that, considering that there are not many Pallottines in the Kimberley as before, they want to help Aborigines in this way. Each year 6 scholarships are made available to Aboriginal applicants. There is a solemn Eucharist with Bishop Saunders in the small cathedral. Afterwards we are invited to enjoy cold drinks, salads and chicken - drumsticks. One of the old ladies, originally from Beagle Bay, entertains the guests by singing Marian hymns in German. She learned them from Fr. Francis Huegel. Bishop Saunders speaks with great admiration about the work of the Pallottines with special mention of his predecessors Bishop Raible and Jobst. Some parishioners speak about the past. Again we can be proud of our confreres. We receive presents, small paintings of a small town on a great ocean. The lady who hands the presents to us is proud to be a Christian. She is happy with her life with the exception of having been forcefully taken away from her mother who afterwards hit her head with rocks. She bled in double pain. Amidst great joy there is this uneasiness. This is the Church of Australia. Great achievements. Questions. Hopes. Estrangement and understanding among groups from such a variety of backgrounds. And right in between are the Pallottines, for 100 years now. And it is good so.
Fr. Eugene San SAC
He was 12 years old when he arrived in Australia with his family. He trained to be an electrical engineer. The Catholic youngster – about 1% of the population of in Burma are Catholics – noticed a poster in the foyer of a church which appealed to him immediately. The Pallottines were looking for lay missionaries in Western Australia. Eleven young men and women met at the Pallotti College in Millgrove at to prepare themselves for action. Since the fifties Pallottines in Eastern Australia train young Christians to work as lay missionaries for 1 – 3 years in the West assisting the various places in their task. After the 5-week training five of them went to Tardun and six to Rossmoyne where the hostel for Aboriginal students was still operating at that time. At Rossmoyne Eugene helped in the house and in the hostel and regularly drove the school bus. He had fond memories of working together with Frs. Joseph Butscher and Joseph Kearney. It was the latter who, at the end of three years service, confronted him with the question: "Eugene, could you imagine yourself becoming a Pallottine?" Somehow he had already felt this very question rising within himself. Now it was spelt out and he answered it with a resounding ‘yes’. In 1985 Eugene commenced his studies at Box Hill and was ordained a priest six years later.
In the following three years he served as assistant priest in Riverton where Fr. John Luemmen was parish priest. The next three years Fr. San served in the diocese of Bunbury. He was chaplain to Aborigines for the area and resided at Wagin. This, we could say, prepared him for his task at Beagle Bay where he is parish priest now since 1996.
The lack of priestly vocations is also felt in Australia. For this reason the parishes of Beagle Bay and Lombadina – both situated on the Dampier Peninsula – have been combined. About 1,100 people live here of whom more than 50% are Catholics. Typical for Australia: few people and great distances. Fr. Eugene has to structure his time carefully. Apart from the preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation the 120 children at the Catholic School in Beagle Bay as well the 70 at Lombadina like to see their parish priest regularly for religious instruction. On a Sunday afternoon Fr. Eugene drives to Lombadina to celebrate evening Mass and returns again to Beagle Bay on Tuesday. By now people have caught on to the fact that his vehicle also serves as a taxi.
On our return trip he speaks about his time here at Lombadina with Fr. Werner Kriener during his training. It meant to get up very early in the morning for meditation as this German priest was used to a very structured time table. Fr. Eugene is full of admiration for Fr. Kriener’s past engagement with Aborigines whose culture he had wanted to help renew and combine with the message of Christianity. The name of Fr. Francis Huegel also comes up who had been parish priest of Beagle Bay for many years. With a tinge of sadness he speaks of the present situation at Beagle Bay. There are several Whites and Aboriginals who are involved in the life of the parish, but the years where it flourished are gone. Many young people have left for the towns, old traditions have faded. It is almost impossible to interest the few young people left. It is good that the diocesan Kimberley-Evangelisation-Team offers some activities. The young adults love going on camps, but going to church, saying prayers ... Fr. Eugene stops. How does he feel in this situation and on top of this as a Pallottine all on his own in this place. Spontaneously he continues: "I feel like a sower" says the Pallottine from Burma, "the growth and the harvest I have to leave to others. Somehow I represent God here and the Church. This should help people to get more interior stability. They need it with all the problems here. I love the people and they love me. I can feel it. And I hope that, once I am not here any more, that they will speak of me like they do of the old ones like Fr. Kriener, Fr. Huegel or Br. Joseph. This would be wonderful."
Pallotti in Australia
The name of Vincent Pallotti was already known here 55 years before any Pallottine set foot on Australian soil.
This is how it happened. In 1845 some Spanish monks travelled to Australia via Rome and founded the abbey of New Norcia, 70 km north of Perth. Today the abbey is one the best known tourist attractions of Western Australia.
In Rome Fr. Roderindo Salvado, later Bishop Salvado, the founder of the Abbey, made the acquaintance of Vincent Pallotti who always showed great interest in missionary work and supported it as much as he could. Abbate Pallotti gave Salvado a picture of Mary the ‘Mother of Good Counsel’ to take with him.
This picture now - its beautiful frame was donated by the Spanish Consul for Western Australia – adorns the side-chapel on the left of the abbey church and is venerated by many. This is the reason why.
In December 1947 the monks were ready to harvest their first crop. It had been a very hot summer. They were about to start harvesting when they noticed a bushfire approaching the abbey. The buildings were endangered and the crop soon caught fire. The monks and the Aborigines fighting the fire together were unable to contain the flames. Then one of the missionaries fetched the picture of Mary, held it towards the fire and implored Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to help them. All of a sudden the wind changed. The danger had passed. The monks were relieved and grateful. The Aborigines were astounded. "This was done by a white woman", they said.
A plaque tells the story of the Roman origin of the picture and of the miraculous powers of the picture of the "Mother of Good Counsel’.
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