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 CNS Story:

POPE-ABORIGINES Jul-17-2008 (700 words) With photos. xxxi

Aborigines play prominent role in pope's welcome to Australia

By Dan McAloon
Catholic News Service

SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) -- To the haunting drone of didgeridoo, Pope Benedict XVI's arrival at Rose Bay began with a "sweeping dance" performed by three young Australian Aborigines.

The clearing of debris from the ground ahead of the pope symbolized "purification and new beginnings," said one of the dancers, Matt Shields, 23, a Kamilaroi from western New South Wales. The dance was one of several events highlighting Australia's indigenous peoples July 17, the pope's first day of participating in World Youth Day events.

Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had spoken about new beginnings for Australia's indigenous peoples during a brief speech at Sydney's Government House when he applauded the government's recent apology to Aborigines for the stolen generations forcibly separated from their families. The Australian government's acknowledgment of injustices against indigenous peoples, the pope said, was "courageous."

"Concrete steps are now being taken to achieve reconciliation based on mutual respect," he said.

At Rose Bay, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of the Sydney basin, welcomed Pope Benedict to Sydney Harbor's shore.

Allen Madden, a 59-year-old Gadigal elder, welcomed the pope "as a man of hope, love and peace" into his ancestors' country.

"I encourage you to share your message with youth, and I pray to God that your stay here will be peaceful," Madden told the pope. He handed the pope a sprig of gum leaves as a symbol to hasten his evangelizing mission in Sydney, saying, "This gum tree grows strong with little water in a dry land."

Asked what he thought about welcoming the pope, recognized as leader of many of the people whose ancestors oppressed his ancestors, Madden said: "We call him the 'keeper of the law.' He is a dignitary because he is interested in the spirit, not in power."

Elsie Heiss, chairwoman of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council, the indigenous consulting group to the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, also welcomed the pope at Rose Bay.

Through her role as an elder in Sydney's Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Heiss has been involved in planning the indigenous contributions to World Youth Day, beginning with the message stick invitation sent out with the World Youth Day cross and icon.

Aboard the Sydney 2000 cruiser, the pope watched as tens of thousands of people lined the shores of Sydney Harbor shouting "Viva Papa!" and waving.

As the papal boat ride of 13 vessels proceeded up Sydney Harbor toward the old dockyard of Barangaroo, one Aboriginal dancer known as Shields told Pope Benedict how the iconic Opera House was built on Bennelong Point, named after the Gadigal man who was an interlocutor between his people and the first British settlers.

Shields told Catholic News Service that he also explained to the pope the symbolism of the tri-colored Aboriginal flag: "Red for the color of the people's blood and the earth, the yellow motif for the life-giving sun, and the black of the first peoples' skin."

"The pope listened," Shields said, "He took everything in."

Disembarking from the boat at Barangaroo, Pope Benedict passed through an honor guard of Aboriginal elders. Arriving on stage to the tumultuous applause of the gigantic sea of pilgrims, he welcomed all the World Youth Day participants.

"Many of you are local, from the outback or the dynamic multicultural communities of Australian cities," the pope said. "Others of you have come from the scattered islands of Oceania, and others still from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. Some of you, indeed, have come from as far as I have, Europe.

"Wherever we are from, we are here at last in Sydney," the pope said. "Together we stand in our world as God's family, disciples of Christ, empowered by his Spirit to be witnesses of his love and truth for everyone."

Thanking the Aboriginal elders who had welcomed him, the pope said, "I am deeply moved to stand on your land, knowing the suffering and injustices it has borne, but aware, too, of the healing and hope that are now at work, rightly bringing pride to all Australian citizens."


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