An example of Aboriginal art An example of Aboriginal art 

Aboriginal elder to visit Vatican for Australia's Reconciliation Week

During her stay in the Vatican, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann will meet with senior officials, discussing faith, ecology, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

By Joseph Tulloch

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, an Australian aboriginal elder, teacher and artist, will be in the Vatican from the 29th May to the 3rd June.

During her week-long visit, she will speak on themes of spirituality, ecology, and reconciliation between the Church and Indigenous Australians. 

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann is expected to meet with Pope Francis, and attend a number of events with senior figures in the Vatican. 

The Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, said on Thursday that she was “thrilled” to announce the trip, calling it an “emotive journey by one of our country’s most respected Indigenous leaders.”

Elder, teacher, artist, activist

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann was born in 1950 in Australia’s Northern Territory, and has worked as a teacher, artist, and advocate for Indigenous rights. 

In 1975, she became the first fully-qualified Aboriginal teacher in the entire country. In 1993, she was appointed Principal of St Francis Xavier School in Daly River. 

In 1986, meanwhile, she co-founded the Merrepen Arts Centre, which aims to foster spiritual growth through the visual arts. She has worked extensively with Aboriginal children, helping them to use art to explore their relationship with the natural world.  

Her leadership has earned her an Order of Australia Medal and the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year award.

The visit

Dr Ungunmerr Baumann’s visit to the Vatican is timed to coincide with Australia’s Reconciliation Week, an annual celebration of Indigenous history and culture.

Aside from her meeting with Pope Francis, the main event of her trip will be an evening reception at the Vatican Museums on the 30th May. There, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann – whose artistic work draws on both Aboriginal and Christian traditions – will present a new specially commissioned piece. 

On the 31st May, she will participate in a public discussion with Bishop Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Education and Culture.

That evening, Cardinal Roche, Prefect of the Vatican’s liturgy Dicastery, will preside over a Mass marking 50 years since the first Aboriginal Liturgy. The following day, Dr Ungunmerr Baumann will speak on the subject of “An Indigenous perspective on integral ecology: the concept of Dadirri.”

The final event of the week will be a lecture by Fr Frank Brennan SJ, an advocate for Indigenous Australians, on the 1992 ‘Mabo’ judgement, a milestone legal victory for Indigenous rights.

A “unique opportunity”

Announcing the visit, Ambassador Porro said that she was “thrilled to announce Dr Ungunmerr Baumann’s visit to Rome.”

Referring to the discussions on ecology, education, and Indigenous affairs, she said that the visit would be “a unique opportunity to exchange perspectives on many priority issues for both Australia and the Holy See.”

“It will also be,” she added, “an emotive journey by one of our country’s most respected Indigenous leaders, and it stands to be an inspiration and an example that will resonate strongly with Aboriginal communities across Australia.”

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18 May 2023, 14:19