· Vatican City ·

Aboriginal elder journeys from the Australian bush to the Vatican

Faith, spirituality and reconciliation

 Faith, spirituality and reconciliation  ING-022
02 June 2023

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, a Catholic Australian Aboriginal elder, educator, and artist is at the Vatican for a week-long visit which coincides with Australia’s National Reconciliation Week, a time dedicated to promoting awareness and respect for First Nations culture and history and to strengthening the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. Her presence in Rome, which includes audiences with Pope Francis and senior figures from the Vatican, diplomats, as well as representatives of Catholic Church networks, also coincides with the year which celebrates the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Holy See. To mark Reconciliation Week 2023, the Australian embassy to the Holy See organized a series of events.

During the week’s main event, entitled “Storytelling”, on Tuesday evening, 30 May, at the Vatican Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann unveiled her new painting, which was especially commissioned for the anniversary year. The event was hosted by Vatican Museums Director Ms Barbara Jatta, Vatican City Secretary General Sr Raffaella Petrini, Anima Mundi curator Fr Nicola Mapelli and Australian Ambassador to the Holy See Ms Chiara Porro. After a warm welcome, Dr Miriam-Rose, whose art blends traditional Indigenous elements with Christian themes, spoke about her people’s profound connection to the land and how this connection is intrinsically linked to God. She shared a story about being asked how Aboriginal people could accept God. She replied that they found God in nature. This was the inspiration behind her latest painting. After unveiling the painting, Dr Miriam-Rose explained that, unlike other states in Australia, there are only two seasons in her native Nauiyu community on the Daly River in Australia’s Northern Territory: the dry season announced by the arrival of dragonflies and the wet season ushered in by water lilies and turtles, as depicted in her painting.

On Wednesday, 31 May, Dr Miriam-Rose met Pope Francis at the General Audience and then participated in a dialogue with Msgr Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Dicastery of Education and Culture, on the theme, “Building bridges through education and culture”, at the Australian Catholic University Rome campus. She spoke about the role that education plays in building bridges and reconciliation with Indigenous people. Later in the evening, Cardinal Arthur Roche, Prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, celebrated Holy Mass at the Domus Australia to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Aboriginal liturgy, celebrated in February 1973 as part of the 40th International Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne.

On Thursday, 1 June, Dr Miriam-Rose participated in an event hosted by uisg on caring for our common home, with the theme, “An Indigenous perspective on integral ecology”, in which she explained the meaning of Dadirri, a word that comes from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region. The quality of Dadirri, she explained, refers to “inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness” similar to the concept of contemplation. Dadirri however, also refers to waiting and letting things run their natural course. This includes waiting for God because, she said, his time is the right time.

Reconciliation Week celebrations will conclude on Saturday, 3 June, with a lecture by Fr Frank Brennan sj , advocate for Indigenous Australians, followed by remarks from Monsignor Anthony Ekpo, Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The event, to be held at the Pontifical Gregorian University, will address Indigenous rights and reconciliation efforts in Australia and the impact of the 1992 ‘Mabo’ judgment, a landmark legal victory for Indigenous rights in which the Australian Supreme Court overturned the concept of terra nullis which claimed that Australia belonged to no one at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in 1770. The Mabo ruling established the principle of native title rights in Australian Common Law and is commemorated each year on 3 June. ( s.p.k. )