01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2


Christmas among
the Aborigines

by John Kinder

The idea of a Christmas card came from a simple observation: the cards on sale in Australia were mostly secular in tone, either European, with lots of snow–but here it is 90 degrees–or Australian with Father Christmas in his sled pulled by a team of kangaroos. The only attractive religious cards featured Italian paintings from the 15th–17th centuries–nothing wrong with that, but because of our love for tradition as something alive, we looked for images that proposed the fact of the Nativity in the history of Australian art. The idea of the card also came out of our experience of Christian friendship, which had developed through following the charism of Father Giussani. School of Community in recent years led us to look to the concrete reality of the Nativity, the Christian event, the Incarnation. We have experienced Jesus Christ incarnate among us. This is what we wanted to communicate through the gesture of the card. The painting we chose is by an anonymous artist from Balgo-Kutjungka, a remote parish in the Great Sandy Desert, with a population of a thousand souls spread across four communities. The area has been inhabited continuously for 40,000 years and the first Catholic missionaries arrived there in 1939. This makes the painting an expression of the recent encounter between possibly the oldest people on earth and the Christian Fact.
The parish priest, Father Matt, happily gave us permission to use the painting and provided a beautiful explanation of its rich symbolism. Later, we learned that Father Matt went to Cologne for World Youth Day with a group of young people from Balgo, and also visited Lourdes and other sites. He was very struck when he saw the quotation from Pope Benedict in the card!
We were planning to print at most a few hundred copies. Then, unexpectedly, the University of Notre Dame Australia (based in Perth) asked to use the card as their official Christmas card, and the Knights of the Southern Cross (our equivalent of the Knights of Columbus) sent a card to each Member of the Federal Parliament.
Above all, the card was a way to communicate our experience to others, especially because we sold it ourselves outside our local churches and found it provoked curiosity and questions.