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Wednesday, 29 June 2022 17:54

A simple encounter of hearts for Nuncio's visit to Palm Island

Nuncio visits Palm Island June 2022 welcome 450The simplicity and heart-to-heart encounter of a visit by Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Balvo to Palm Island made the event truly extraordinary for all those who were part of it, says Parish Priest Fr Manh Le SVD.

Archbishop Balvo, who is American and is a veteran of several decades in the Vatican’s diplomatic service, made the trip to Palm Island, now known by its traditional name of Bwgcolman, during his visit to the Diocese of Townsville earlier this month.

Fr Manh says the visit to the small Indigenous community by the Pope’s representative in Australia was a simple affair which reflected the lives of Palm Islanders.

“For me, that was the highlight,” he says. “Where simplicity meets the ordinary, it results in something extraordinary.”

Fr Manh, and the Holy Spirit Sisters Sisters Mere and Gracia, met Archbishop Balvo at the island’s tiny airport and took him and Townsville Bishop Tim Harris and their companions to Butler Bay and the location of the first Catholic school on Palm Island.

St Michael’s School Principal, Tess Fong told Townsville’s Catholic News: “We felt it was important for the Elders of Palm Island to welcome the Apostolic Nuncio by giving a history of Palm Island and the journey the community had travelled to where we are today.”

Nuncio visits Palm Island June 2022 smoking ceremony 450Archbishop Balvo was also honoured with a smoking ceremony, which Fr Manh says was “to make him and the visitors feel at home, connected with Country and to be protected by God”.

The Nuncio said he was touched by the heartfelt welcome he received.

“This was a very special welcome from the community,” he told Catholic News. “To have elders, members of the Palm Island council, children and members of the community come and greet me in this was touching.”

The group then visited the school and church precinct where Fr Manh held a brief prayer and reflection ceremony and explained some of the history of the island and role the Church had played in the community over many years.

Fr Manh says one of the special moments was when, during the recounting of the island’s history, the local ‘40 Tribes song’ was played and some children spontaneously stood up and danced.

“This simple Aboriginal dance connected all of us together and was a real sign of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Ancestors, being present,” he says.

Nuncio visits Palm Island June 2022 gravesite 450Bishop Tim said that by sharing the story of the island and its people with the Archbishop Balvo, he was able to enter into the reality of their lives.

“I felt it was important to share the Palm Island story with the Nuncio to give him a better understanding of this very special part of the Diocese,” he said.

After an informal afternoon tea, Fr Manh showed the visiting group around the main part of the island and visited the cemetery where Sr Paule FMM’s grave is located, the only religious sister buried on Palm Island.

The archbishop had a special connection, as Sr Paule was also from the United States, and she had insisted that she be buried on the island to be with the people she cared for over many years.

“This has been a very special time and has allowed me for the first time to meet and chat with First Australians, something I will remember very fondly,” he said.

Fr Manh said the Nuncio told him it was his job to “be the ears” of the Pope and that he would tell the Pope about Palm Island and its people.

“The heart of the visitation was the simplicity of everyone,” Fr Manh says.

“Everybody just met each other at the ground, the level of the simple heart, so then together from the heart we can rise up the Voice from the Heart.”

Nuncio visits Palm Island June 2022 group photo 550

IMAGES: Diocese of Townsville/Neil Helmore.