By Natashya Fernandez
Brendan Philips, volunteer Pastoral worker at Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) has recently completed his chaplaincy degree at Murdoch University and Clinical Pastoral Education through Royal Perth Hospital.
In his reflective essay, titled – Reflective Essay on CPE Placement at Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, Murdoch University, which he completed during National Reconciliation Week, Mr Philips addresses the pastoral care challenges among young Aboriginal students and the various spiritual needs encountered.
It reflects on these needs from the perspectives of moving from adolescence to early adulthood, identity politics, racism, embedded belief systems and a variety of theological perspectives.
Mr Philips said the essay discusses firstly the knowledge and appreciation of the historical, socio-political and cultural contexts of Aboriginal people.
He writes, ”I believe it is important for it can be very difficult to identify the effects of inter-generational trauma, discrimination and disadvantage as a shared phenomena when only looking at individual responses to new environments such as university education in isolation.
“We have to consider probable situations that result in lack of support and understanding of what the individual student is experiencing at home, and how that may significantly challenge a person’s passion to fly and be who he or she can be, despite it all. The lack of support is merely because very few family and friends have studied and completed university.”
He particularly touches upon his encounters with Aboriginal people, particularly young people at Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre embarking on higher education and what they are exposed to.
“Student experiences are quite unique to Aboriginal people and the privilege I had was to be a part of that lived experience with them on their journey. The group I mostly worked with were preparing to undertake first-year University,” he says in his essay.
His paper discussed issues such as identification or lack there off of Aboriginal students not wanting to be identified on their enrolment and also touched upon discrimination and Indigenous disadvantage.
“Most aboriginal students I encountered came from families that have experienced disadvantage and discrimination. However this background may be very difficult to identify, as it is not openly talked about. These students shared many similarities with my own family history that include a history of shame, anger, frustration and marginalisation from society. However, not openly talking about these things appears very common.
Admitting that we need to reach out for available support is just as common. And at 54 years of age, I am only realising this for myself. So I sense the bravery of younger people willing to reach out for help.
Some of us have been able to identify in our lives a tension that exists living in two worlds. The ‘white man’ world that promotes philosophy of success through individual achievement, specialisation, compartmentalisation of knowledge and life with a consequent disconnection from the interconnectedness of all things, ‘a fair go for all’ or ‘equal playing field’, competition and recognition through one’s personal determination.
The ‘black fella’ world, which sees all things both animate, inanimate, material, spiritual, past, present and future, are connected and hosted in spirit and we all have a special place in that interconnectedness that embodies one’s body, mind and spirit (Milroy).”
Mr Philips said that while some students said that they did not know their identity till their late 20s and 30s, finding it out led them on a quest to understand their roots and go in search of their ancestry.
“The essay goes on to reflect on the spiritual needs of the students and how it opened up many avenues for healing, forgiveness and unconditional love,” he said.
“99 per cent of the students I worked with in a pastoral care capacity were young aboriginal people who shared certain situations I myself, being an older aboriginal male, could identify with.
“It was a transformative experience for me and my pastoral presence was formally recognised through staff and student feedback as having been very important in helping them through self-doubts and stress,” Mr Philips said.
“It is a pure joy to know that they are on their way and we shared part of that journey together.
“I discovered with my supervisor that I played the part of an older ‘Uncle’ and spiritually that is a very important supportive and guiding relationship. Appreciating the experiences of young people and helping them build self-confidence was transformative for me also,” he added.
In concluding his essay, Mr Philips said that two issues came to mind that were important for enhancing pastoral care at Kulbardi.
“Firstly, I believe it is important to gain an appreciation of the history of Aboriginal disadvantage and discrimination, the current issues around Closing the Gap, Reconciliation, Constitutional Recognition and some of the understanding of intergenerational discrimination and disadvantage. Secondly, being involved with a community of aboriginal people with needs and struggles that go back generations, is very taxing, spiritually and emotionally,” he wrote.
“Therefore I believe it is important to stay closely in touch with the pastoral carer’s own community outside of the pastoral care context. Seeking support from people who the pastoral carer knows, trusts and loves who will spiritually care for and provide guidance. This community can then be the source of understanding, prayer, support, affection and care in a safe way that is not dependent on the pastoral care context itself such as Kulbardi. I also found it helpful to engage in spiritual direction. I believe this to be important in maintaining spiritual and mental well-being and to be effective in the ministry setting.
“I am reminded here of Christ’s need to withdraw from the crowd and rest with his close companions following periods of engagement and healing in order to replenish his spiritual resources for further ministry. De Imitatione Christi seems to be pertinent here.”