Monday, 20 May 2024 07:41

Bathurst Islanders welcome SVD priest as 'part of our Tiwi family' Bathurst Islanders welcome SVD priest as 'part of our Tiwi family' And some words from Bishop Gauci on the MSC ministry

Bathurst Islanders welcome SVD priest as 'part of our Tiwi family'

BathurstIsland Tiwis InstallationofParishPriest Niran 550 Copy

And some words from Bishop Gauci on the MSC ministry

“You are part of our Tiwi people; you are part of our Tiwi family.” These were the words spoken by one of the Traditional Owners of the Tiwi Islands earlier this month during the official installation of Fr Niran Veigas SVD as parish priest on Bathurst Island.

Fr Niran was installed at Our Lady of Peace and St. Therese - Wurrumiyanga, Tiwi Islands by Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci in an emotionally moving and culturally rich Mass almost two years after the Divine Word Missionaries arrived in the Tiwis.

BathurstIsland Tiwis InstallationofParishPriest withparishioners 550

Bishop Charles Gauci, Fr Hung Nguyen SVD, Fr Niran Veigas SVD and Fr Asaeli Rass SVD gather with parishioners at the conclusion of the installation Mass. PHOTO: In the Word - Divine Word Missionaries.

He said missionaries are familiar faces to the Tiwi Islanders, having bid many welcomes and farewells to missionaries at this mission station over the years.

The Catholic Church's presence in Bathurst Island, dates back to 1910 when the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) first arrived on the Tiwi Islands. The MSC missionaries worked tirelessly for 112 years to build a strong bond with the Tiwi community, learning the local language and customs to better connect with the islanders.

In 2022, this mission was handed over to the Divine Word Missionaries (SVDs) by the Diocese of Darwin. For the past two years, the SVDs have been serving in this community, carrying forward the great legacy of the MSCs.

On April 14 Fr Niran and Fr Nguyen Quoc Hung SVD were officially welcomed by the parishioners and the Diocese of Darwin.  Fr Niran has been appointed as the first SVD parish priest at Bathurst Island. Bishop Charles and SVD Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, were present for the occasion.

“Our faces were painted with ochre, adorned with Tiwi designs,” Fr Niran said.

“We were given armbands and headbands prepared by the traditional women. This is very much significant for the Tiwi traditions.

“As part of the welcome, we had a smoking ceremony, and with traditional songs, we were welcomed to their country. Afterward, we marched towards the altar with traditional Tiwi dance and song.”

After the homily, Bishop Charles conducted the installation ceremony for the parish priest. The parish council leaders were present beside Fr Niran during the installation, showing their commitment to journeying together with him. At the end of the Holy Mass, Bishop Charles acknowledged the contributions of the MSCs to this mission and also thanked the OLSH sisters, who have contributed immensely through education, health, and various other ways and the Canossian Sisters who have recently arrived in the Tiwi Islands. He also expressed gratitude to all missionaries—men, women, and laypeople—who have contributed tremendously to the growth of this mission.

BathurstIsland Tiwis InstallationofParishPriest Niran 550

Fr Niran is installed as Parish Priest. PHOTO: In the Word - Divine Word Missionaries.

Bishop Charles said the Installation Mass was “a great celebration of faith”.

Fr Rass thanked Bishop Charles for inviting the Divine Word Missionaries to the island. He said that as a missionary congregation, the SVD feels privileged to work with the First Nations people and that during the Mass, he felt Jesus was truly present.

He said he appreciated the well-organised liturgy, singing, and participation of the Tiwi people.

“I was absolutely touched by the inculturation of the liturgy,” Fr Rass said. “The strong Tiwi culture was on full display. I always say they are one of the best groups of local liturgists I’ve seen, bringing the best of their culture into the sacred liturgy. It was really wonderful.”

Parish Council Chairperson Stacey Parker thanked the Divine Word Missionaries for providing two priests and promised, on behalf of the parishioners that they would take care of them and help them.

At the end, Fr Niran thanked Bishop Charles, Fr Rass, and the Tiwi people. He said that both priests have come to a new culture, new shores, and new traditions.

"We want to work alongside you, appreciating the Tiwi culture and traditions, and want to walk with you. We both feel that we belong to one big Tiwi family,” he said.

This article was published in In the Word, the e-newsletter of the Divine Word Missionaries Australia Province.