How true it is that Australia Day marks the end of our summer holidays or, as we have always called them, the Christmas holidays - and the year now starts in earnest. Most of us groan at the thought, as the pace of life picks up and our free time becomes limited.
I thought that over the next few weeks, as part of my messages, I would break open Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message – and which is released for 1 January each year. This year the theme of this message is: “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace”.
He begins this message with these powerful words:
Peace to all people and to all nations on earth! Peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night, is a profound aspiration for everyone, for each individual and all peoples, and especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence. Among these whom I constantly keep in my thoughts and prayers, I would once again mention the over 250 million migrants worldwide, of whom 22.5 million are refugees. Pope Benedict XVI my beloved predecessor, spoke of them as “men and women, children, young and elderly people, who are searching for somewhere to live in peace.” In order to find that peace, they are willing to risk their lives on a journey that is often long and perilous, to endure hardships and suffering, and to encounter fences and walls built to keep them far from their goal.
In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.
He goes on to break open the elements of our Catholic social teaching about the common good with these words:
Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited.
How apt to read these words around Australia Day, a day when many migrants and refugees become Australian citizens. Some of you would have seen the wonderful image of a family on the front page of the Newcastle Herald on Australia Day with a quote from Marie Jose Niyowera: “I can’t believe we have our own country now – I feel like I’m in paradise and like I’m going to be truly happy for the first time in my life.”
She is pictured with her husband John Bukuru and daughters Memory and Ivona. This joyous image of the family and the story of their journey to Australia captures Pope Francis’ message. Humans long for peace and our great South Land of the Holy Spirit becomes a paradise for so many because it has been richly blessed by God. Some of you may have heard the speech given by the 2018 Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons. A physicist, who migrated to Australia from England, she spoke of the opportunities for everyone in Australia to achieve their aspirations.
I think the reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans (12:9-13), from the Australia Day readings, speaks powerfully about peace and hospitality:
Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers and sisters should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying. If any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.
I am mindful that, as you once again begin to receive our Dio Update, you will see the many occasions and opportunities for your involvement in our local diocesan church. Please resist the temptation to simply view the dates without paying attention to the real invitation – which is to be involved, connected and informed.
Most importantly, on the list of activities, is Fr Brian Mascord’s farewell and his ordination as Bishop of Wollongong. You need no reminder regarding the significance to Fr Brian of this appointment but it is worth noting the loss of one of our very own priests. It is certainly my hope that hundreds of people from our diocese respond to the invitation, to come along to his farewell as a gesture or our gratitude and good will.
As this Year of Youth unfolds, I will be spending next weekend with the members of our Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People (DCMYP), exploring with them the opportunities for the young people of our diocese. The numbers on this Council are dwindling and it would be great if more could respond to the call to volunteer, to assist in this important ministry of service to our younger Catholics.
Let’s be reminded of the journey of the Magi, the seekers after truth and the followers of stars. May this year be one in which we offer to others our roadmap to the Truth.
“We understand and accept that He is the Body language of God, that He is ‘God with us’, Emmanuel, that He is The Answer to all seeking after truth and the yearning of the human heart.” (Fr Michael Tate – Stars and Seekers after Truth)
Let us hold our gaze on the One.