I still remember being appalled by what I saw on the Four Corners program which exposed some of the treatment to which those young people were subjected.
I remember thinking, ‘how could this happen in this city where I live?’ Obviously it was a brutal betrayal of a sacred trust.
Later I began to ask myself the question, ‘how could we let this happen, right here in our city?’
There seems to be so much in common with the exposure of the scandalous sexual abuse phenomenon in our Church.
We are all asking ourselves how on earth it could happen and indeed how could we let it happen, in our own Church? I had all of this on my mind on Holy Thursday when I accompanied Fr Dan Benedetti, the chaplain, to Don Dale to visit the young people there. It proved to be a profound experience for me.
Fr Dan and I conducted a little liturgy with some music and an explanation of the gospel passage wherein Jesus speaks with his disciples about the nature of service. We explained that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to teach them to serve others and to stress his love and concern for them.
We then offered to wash their feet as Jesus had washed the feet of his friends and for the same reason.
They had a choice to have their feet washed or not. All of them chose to have their feet washed.
As I washed the feet of each young person and then looked at their face, it was like reading a library. There were so many emotions; astonishment, nervousness, pride, uncertainty and something of a newly discovered ‘worthwhileness’.
It was a privileged and profound experience for me.
When the second group came in we repeated the liturgy and explained the symbolism and the sacredness of the washing of the feet. Again it was a choice for them as to whether they participated or not. Again they all participated reverently and I was acutely aware of the special privilege we had as we washed those feet.
When I got to the last young person, I washed the feet and then thanked the person and slowly sat up. After a moment’s silence one of these young people quietly said, “excuse me Bishop, could I wash your feet?”
I agreed to the request with an immense sense of humility and reverence for the young person. Of course, of all days, I had some big holes in my socks…can you believe it!
I find it difficult to describe adequately the emotion I experienced. That extraordinary sense of genuine faith and reverence has stayed with me and grows stronger each day. I shared this experience with the people in the Cathedral.
I mentioned that this had never happened to me anywhere else at any time. Not in the Cathedral, nor on a retreat, nor in any religious community…it happened to me in Don Dale, the place where we lock up young people as criminals.
It’s amazing where you find Jesus these days.
Bishop Hurley is bishop of Darwin.
First published in Unity Magazine