Our Gospel reading for this weekend (Luke 9:51-62) reminds us to follow Jesus, to live the way of discipleship. So here I am talking about taking time to rest a little and Jesus is asking us to follow him, to take up the plough and not look back. So a disciple is not ever meant to rest totally!
I thought I would share with you some of the many activities that have taken place during the past week, just so you have a sense of how the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is following Jesus. Some of you would have engaged in some of these events.
Refugee and Migrant Week has just been observed and we were engaged in many activities:
Refugee Awareness Run #3Weeks2Days – Michael Eccleston completed a run from St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen, calling in at Singleton, Lochinvar, Maitland, Mayfield and finishing the run at San Clemente. Michael ran last weekend in the cold, rain and wind, having been inspired by the story of refugee John Sandy, who walked for 3 weeks and 2 days in order to reach a refugee camp where there was a phone which he could use to contact his wife who had already been settled in Australia. John is one of the refugees who willingly shares his story and speaks of the plight of those who are forced to leave their homelands because of violence. Michael and John have spoken to hundreds of students and parishioners in order to raise awareness about the ‘true’ story that surrounds those people who seek to call Australia home. Funds from this run were raised for our CatholicCare Refugee Service.
Syrian Refugee Resettlement Information Session – About 100 people, who provide different services for refugees and asylum seekers, gathered for a few hours to listen to speakers from resettlement service providers. These providers spoke about the reasons approximately 60 million people across the globe are presently displaced from their homelands and are seeking protection and assistance. When they are finally accepted for resettlement in Australian, their needs are extensive – housing, food, finances, language programs, education, employment, health and cultural awareness, just to name some of the big ones. While governments initially provide these core services through Settlement Service Providers, the local community needs to offer personal support and care for those who have been displaced by violence. It must be overwhelming to leave your home, seek safety, live for years in refugee camps, be accepted to a new country and then attempt to rebuild your life, where everything is foreign and you are relatively poor compared with the world in which you find yourself.
Iftar Dinner – the breaking of the fast at the end of the day during Ramadan. About 100 people − politicians, community leaders, educators and church leaders − gathered with some of the local Muslims from the Newcastle Muslim Association for an Iftar dinner at Maryland on Saturday evening. It began with a welcome, followed by prayer and then the breaking of the fast with wonderful food and good conversation. Several times we were greeted with the words ‘Peace and Mercy’. The hospitality was excellent and they spoke of their desire to work as one in forming a cohesive community. Unity in diversity was seen as an essential element to our Australian way of life. Interestingly, Ramadan has similarities to our Lenten practices. The fasting from sunrise to sunset is a spiritual practice which invites the Muslim community to practise self-control, to increase its awareness of God and to remember to be charitable and generous. It is a daily practice which may lead to spiritual enlightenment.
Multicultural Mass – Fr Thomas Chirackal celebrated Mass at Mayfield West on Sunday speaking in several languages and praying the Eucharistic Prayer in Swahili. About 50 people gathered for prayer, conversation and the sharing of food at CatholicCare Refugee Service which is located beside this church. Once again Christians and Muslims sat side by side in prayer and in hospitality.
The theme for Refugee Week was ‘with courage let us all combine’. These words were chosen to reflect the courage of refugees and of people to speak out against persecution and injustice. You may recall that the Social Justice Statement for 2015-16 addresses justice for refugees and asylum seekers. I am amazed that the dialogue of fear around this issue continues to be a focus in our coming election. And who can believe that this formed part of the message in the Brexit referendum?
No matter who spoke, the common themes that emerged from all these gatherings are:
- Sacred Land
I also went to the opening of our exhibition, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first resident bishop of the diocese, Bishop Murray, jointly presented by Maitland Regional Museum and our Diocese, in St John’s Hall (the old Pro-Cathedral), in Maitland. This ‘pop-up’ museum will be on display until 10 July. Please take the time to visit this wonderful display of our story. For those caring for their grandchildren in the school holidays it would be a great way to share your faith story with them and your call to follow Jesus. Janece McDonald and Michael Belcher are to be congratulated for successfully driving this project.
The Cathedral was almost at capacity for the funeral of Fr Brian Bailey. Bishop Pat Power, a classmate of Fr Brian, spoke powerfully of the Bailey family and their love and care of Fr Brian, who clearly was a good man, from a good family that followed Jesus.
On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending Rick McCosker’s farewell function at the Mission to Seafarers, where those who honoured Rick shared in a spectacular paella. He has been our Stella Maris Chaplain for four years, and he and his wife Meryl will take a break before returning to the Mission as volunteers. Rick has been a tower of strength at the Mission and has served most generously so as to care for our seafarers who come on shore for a short time. These men are away from home for about nine months at a time and the Mission provides them with an opportunity to have a home away from home, for a very short period. Larry Mervin will now step into his shoes and work with the ecumenical team. I am grateful to Rick who continues to hear God’s call to follow Jesus.
Monday was the feast of our diocesan patron saint – Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Many of you will have seen this 15th century icon hanging in many of our churches. Fr Richard Shortall, our Missionary of Mercy, visited San Alfonso di Liguori Church in Rome where this original image is located and he prayed for us as a diocese. This icon was entrusted to the Redemptorist Priests in 1866 by Pope Pius IX. Please take the time to study this image and to pray to Mary for our diocese. We need her protection and guidance.
I finish this message with a prayer:
Mother of Perpetual Help, your very name inspires confidence. We come before your holy picture in praise and thanksgiving to God seeking your intercession with Jesus, your son, for all the needs of our lives today. We celebrate your holy motherhood as we proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
You answered when called to be mother of our Lord. Obtain for us the grace to be alive to our baptismal call and especially to embrace the gospel of life and to respect all life on earth.
You wondered as your Son grew in wisdom, knowledge and grace. Intercede for us so that we may welcome the Word of God in our lives and be bearers of the good news to everyone.
You delighted as your Son healed the sick. Intercede for our sick that they may receive good health and that they in turn may be healers to others.
You enjoyed peace as your Son comforted the afflicted. Intercede for all who suffer so that they may know that we carry their burdens with them and in this way we keep the law of Christ.
You rejoiced as your Son forgave sins. Obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins and lead us to unbind others and set them free.
You suffered at the wounds your Son endured for our salvation. Help us to bind up the brokenhearted and to give hope to the downtrodden.
You exulted in your Son’s resurrection. Obtain for us the grace to persevere in His way all the days of our life and be granted a place in heaven.
You are the first of all the disciples and saints. We trust in your motherly love and care. Obtain for us all the graces we need to fulfil God’s plan each day in our lives.
I hope you are inspired to keep following Jesus during these cold days.