Because of the early Spiritan tradition of the “evangelization of freed slaves”, Spiritan ministries have flourished and continue to do so in Africa, the Caribbean and South America. As times changed the Spiritans responded in other regions where poverty and marginalization had begun a new form of slavery - such as Pakistan, Philippines, Papua New Guinea -- over sixty countries around the world - and Australia is one of them.
Working with the indigenous people of Australia, the Aborigines, is the top priority. Six Spiritans serve five parishes in northwest Australia and on remote Aboriginal reservations and in mining towns across a vast desert landscape.
The Dampier Peninsula Parish, in the remote outback of Australia’s Kimberley Region, covers hundreds of kilometers with a tiny population of Aborigines. Bill Christy, C..SS.p and Daniel Kilala, C.S.Sp., a Spiritan from Tanzania, serve the 1,000 people of the parish through two Catholic primary schools each with about 100 students.
The Aborigines in Australia, like other indigenous peoples who were colonized by people who settled on their land, have suffered the long-term effects from the loss of their land and culture. They have much higher instances of ill health and addiction as well as less employment and fewer high school graduates. Our ministry here in outback Australia is to stand with the people who are the poorest and marginalized of their nation.
In the history of Australia the Church was at once the advocate and defender of the Aborigines but also an instrument of colonial power and settlement. This has left the Church and the people with a complicated relationship. This relationship is best evidenced by the high number of baptisms and a low level of Church participation, and a desire to have Catholic schools on the reservation but at the same time a very high truancy rate.
How could we best serve this community? Our first decision was to stay faithful to the work of all the missionaries that had come before us. We continued to celebrate the sacraments for the community even when only one, two, three or sometimes no one would attend. And secondly we decided to look for new ways to minister to the community, hoping to work more closely with our Catholic schools and provide counseling support for our students.
Spiritans are “always ready”, and to remain open to the Holy Spirit is the key attribute for a missionary. The challenge is not so much to open yourself once to the movement of the Spirit but to remain open even as the Spirit calls you to new directions in your life.
by Bill Christy, C.S.Sp.