The Catholic bishops of Australia, together with the Catholic indigenous community, have paid tribute to the deep spirituality and decades of service of Deacon Boniface Perdjert following his recent death.
Deacon Boniface was the first Indigenous permanent deacon to be ordained in Australia following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but was also an Indigenous senior elder of the Kardu Diminin clan and the traditional owner of the land on which the town of Wadeye (Port Keats) is built.
“Deacon Boniface was a profoundly respected elder within the Aboriginal community, well known for his deep spirituality and his service to his Indigenous brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Deacon Boniface had the rare privilege of meeting three popes during his lifetime: Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
He assisted at the celebration of Mass with John Paul II in Alice Springs in 1986, when the Pope delivered the famous address to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. He again assisted Pope John Paul II at the Mass for the beatification of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop in Sydney in 1995 and was present in Rome for her Canonisation in 2010.
He was among those who welcomed Pope Benedict to Australia in 2008 to celebrate World Youth Day in Sydney.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse, chairman of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, also acknowledged Deacon Boniface’s service.
“Deacon Boniface was the epitome of the diaconal ministry. He was widely regarded for his preaching in his native language and developing the faith community of Port Keats,” Archbishop Prowse said.
“He lived his diaconal vocation in complete service of others.”
Darwin Bishop Charles Gauci extended his condolences to Deacon Boniface’s family and the Northern Territory community.
Bishop Gauci said: “May the Eternal Father now welcome him with those words of Scripture: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your Master’s happiness!’”
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) published a tribute on its website saying: “It is with heavy hearts that we farewell Deacon Boniface Perdjert, who went to God on Monday, March 18 2019, following an extended stay in hospital.
“Deacon Boniface, who was 82, blazed a trail for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics to follow as he not only walked between two worlds – Catholic and Traditional – he brought them together. His words and actions spoke loudly to the members of the Wadeye Community – of which he was a deeply loved and respected Elder – but also to the Catholic Hierarchy with whom he shared his wisdom on many official occasions,” the NATSICC tribute said.
“A man of extraordinary faith, Deacon Boniface was able to describe the ways in which his culture and faith came together. He once described this relationship by saying “Jesus told us we have to love God with whole hearts, mind and spirit that means the whole of me and the whole of me is Aboriginal. There is no other way for me to love him.” Simple, yet powerful.
“As the wider Catholic and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities grieve alongside the community in Wadeye, the members of NATSICC ask that you keep Deacon Boniface’s words in your hearts and continue the journey that he started all those years back, by expressing your faith and culture in a way that is meaningful to you and enlightening for the Australian Catholic Church as a whole.”