Sunday 5 February 2012
Words and images by Tiffany Orbien,
Archdiocesan Office for Youth
It had all the makings of a typical 'schoolies' experience: young people wanting to celebrate the end of school by visiting some of Australia's most popular destinations.
However, what made this schoolies trip unique was that Crossroads was a journey of discovery for the young people who embarked on it—to explore their faith, share their life experiences, and live simply as a community as they travelled to Central Australia.
Accompanied by members of the Archdiocesan Office for Youth and a chaplain, 10 school leavers from Melbourne embarked on a two-week pilgrimage from 26 November to 9 December 2011.
Travelling west through Victoria, the group visited the Grampians on their way to the town of Casterton, where a local family and parish priest Fr Andrew Hayes hosted them overnight.
Crossing the border into South Australia, the group headed to Penola to learn about the life and work of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. Locals were only too happy to show the pilgrims around town, including a visit to the original site of the first stable school established by St Mary and Fr Julian Tenison-Woods. This was complemented by a visit to the Mary MacKillop Heritage Centre of Adelaide.
From Adelaide, the group flew up north to spend a week in the Indigenous community of Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte), 80 kilometres outside Alice Springs. This remote township was established in the 1950s with the help of Catholic missionaries, who still today play an important role in supporting the community's school and parish.
From the beginning, the locals welcomed the pilgrims, thankful for their willingness to assist the community in whatever way possible.
Next door to the parish is the Women's Spirituality Centre, where local women create artworks that are sold around Australia. Pastoral associate Sr Liz Wiemers said the centre was not only a place for the women to gather, but more importantly a place to put their talents to good use and be part of something purposeful and life-giving.
Other highlights in Santa Teresa included a traditional smoking ceremony led by the community's spiritual healer, Sr Mia, along with a drive out bush for some authentic bush tucker.
The experience was certainly eye-opening, giving the pilgrims invaluable firsthand insight into the everyday life of Indigenous people and their strong connection to the land and creator spirit.
One pilgrim said, "I have been touched by learning the stories of some Arrente women. It was such a privilege to learn some of their traditions and to hear how faith is such a presence in their lives." Another pointed out how being in Santa Teresa made her realise how little it takes to be happy.
"You see children in old clothes, overcrowded housing conditions and carrying nothing but a few marbles, but the first thing you notice is their glowing smile and friendliness."
The pilgrimage culminated with a visit to Uluru, where the group camped overnight before heading back to Alice Springs and back home to Melbourne.
Although Crossroads was a journey of celebration, perhaps it was also an opportunity for pilgrims to see what others' journeys have led to and the inspiration they offer. The inspiration of Mary MacKillop, a young woman who remained true to her faith and the call to serve others, of Sr Liz Wiemers and other missionaries living in Santa Teresa, who help provide locals with a sense of purpose and dignity, and that of countless others whose generous hospitality along the way will not go unforgotten.
As one pilgrim put it, "I am so glad I chose Crossroads over a typical schoolies trip. I have had an experience that I will always remember, an experience that has changed me for the better".
Crossroads will continue in 2012, with applications for this year's pilgrimage to open soon.
Details: Archdiocesan Office for Youth, 9412 3300 www.cam.org.au/youth.
Kairos Catholic Journal Volume 23, issue 1