FCJ Companions in Mission Day in Australia

FCJ Companions in Mission and FCJ Sisters celebrate International Companions in Mission day on 21 September. Ann Rennie FCJ Companion in Mission, reports on the celebration in Melbourne.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon recently when Melbourne FCJ Sisters and Companions in Mission gathered at Genazzano FCJ College for our annual International Day, celebrated in September to coincide with the birth of the foundress of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, Marie Madeleine d’Houët.

Our guest speaker for the day was Sherry Balcombe from the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Her talk ranged over a number of issues, both personal and topical, spiritual and secular. At a time when Australia is poised to vote in a referendum to include a new avenue for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard more effectively – the Voice – it was good to hear Sherry’s story and her own lived experience.

She began her talk alluding to the 65,000-year story of Indigenous ties to the land. This went back to the time when this great southern continent included a land bridge to Tasmania and wombats were the size of Mini-Minors! Sherry spoke of ancestral connections, totemic links with birds and animals and the impact of colonisation on her immediate family. She spoke of Lady Mungo who was buried with certain items and that rituals have been part of lore and culture since the beginning. Sherry reminded us that spirituality was part of the everyday life for Indigenous people whose love of country is in their blood.

Sherry spoke of the various government interventions which had impacted on her own family, in the way of being treated almost as slaves or being “stolen” and how this had traumatised families and kinship groups. What came through was a personal resilience and a determination to celebrate her cultural ties and take every opportunity to advocate for the First Nations people and their rights.

Sherry reminded us of the Tent Embassy in Canberra. It has been manned twenty-four hours a day for the past 51 years, a visible reminder to all who visit the capital that the Indigenous owners were here first. She was thrilled to report that an Aboriginal Choir was soon to sing in the Sistine Chapel. She also noted that she had been taught English by former principal of Genazzano, Patricia Cowling, who encouraged the Opening the Doors Foundation fundraising programme at the school.

Sherry spoke of a couple of God moments in her life; times when her actions seemed impulsive, but turned out to be prescient. She acknowledges gratefully that God sometimes kicked her along and she has great faith in the Creator Spirit who has been her faithful companion in good times and in bad.

Sherry believes that she has indeed been blessed and that she has been given, and taken, opportunities to use her own voice to advance the message of reconciliation. Her honesty was palpable and engaging and she left us with the age-old question as we approach October 14: What would Jesus do?