TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Witnessing the human and divine on weekend pilgrimage

In this 150 Years since the arrival of Bishop James Murray in our Diocese, I have had a weekend experience of pilgrimage, beginning on Saturday with the Murray Pilgrimage, followed by the Deaf Pride Week Mass at the Cathedral and then a ‘Prayer and Ritual in Thanksgiving and Farewell' to Sr Anne Moylan and Sr Kim Barnes from St Joseph’s Toronto.

The lyrics to the hymn ‘Ancient Words’ by Michael W Smith, are most fitting to bring together and reflect upon these experiences.

Holy words long preserved
for our walk in this world,
They resound with God's own heart
Oh, let the Ancient words impart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e'er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Holy words of our Faith
Handed down to this age.
Came to us through sacrifice
Oh heed the faithful words of Christ.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world.
They resound with God's own heart
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

About 80 people, spanning nine decades in age, gathered at Morpeth on Saturday morning to remember and to begin to walk the route of the arrival of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland, Bishop James Murray. This great holy pilgrimage of history, fellowship, hospitality, story-telling and exercise was a wonderful celebration of our 150 years, which captured the unfolding of our Catholic story and identity, here in Maitland and beyond.

Walking about 13 kilometres, rain was predicted, and yet we had a fine, and at times, a very hot, walk. Voices from the past – Bishop James Murray (Mark Spencer), the Irish of Maitland (Peter Lawrence Bogan), Caroline Chisholm (Sr Maureen Salmon), Sr Hyacinth Donnellan OP (Sr Denise Sullivan), Horseshoe Bend Resident (Michael Belcher) - were heard along the route, capturing the imagination of the pilgrims while really giving us a taste of our heritage based on ‘ancient words’. What became clear to me was that our European heritage has been handed to us with the roots of faith (Holy words long preserved for our walk in this world). People of the first 200 years of this settlement were connected to their Christian, cultural roots, giving
them their identity and a place in the society in which they found themselves (Holy words of our Faith, Handed down to this age). The story of our First People was also captured and their subsequent losses with the settlement of ‘white’ people on their land.

This heritage was echoed as Sr Anne and Sr Kim were farewelled from St Joseph’s Parish, Toronto. The convent was closed, after sixty years of sisters from three different congregations serving in this parish. This sees the closure of yet another part of our history, in which most parishes would have had a convent with many women giving generously to the community, initially teaching children, and then after Vatican II being a pastoral presence in the community. Sr Anne, as Pastoral Co-ordinator, was acknowledged for her leadership, service, generosity, wisdom and friendship. It was indeed a sad day for the parish as they begin to move on from a history of religious presence and that of a resident parish priest to a lay parish pastoral co-ordinator. Sr Anne has worked with the Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils in preparing the parish for change and there is a sense of anticipation and enthusiasm, as they move forward in continuing to build their parish based on the strong foundations of their past.

It was during the weekend that I also felt grateful for my own heritage in this place. Sr Anne Moylan is my aunt, my dad’s sister. Our forebears came to Maitland and settled at Oakhampton, working hard to provide for their families while instilling in them a deep sense of faith and pride in being Catholic. Sr Anne has been a living witness to this faith as have many of her generation. She and her siblings have handed on the messages of faith and those of my generation must carry the mantle of passing this onto our children who in turn are responsible for passing it onto their children. My grandchildren are linked to the faith story of this land and this diocese.

Families of the deaf gathered with the regular community at the Cathedral on Saturday night. It was good to see our Mass through the lens of the deaf who signed the words, prayers, readings and hymns. There were two young girls who signed some of the hymns with great joy. I love to watch Daphne Peterson from Morisset Parish, sign hymns with great reverence, creativity and beauty. It brings the words and music alive.

As I listened to the story of Zacchaeus, I reflected on the invitation for all to seek and to respond to follow Jesus. This, for me captures the essence of my weekend pilgrimage in our diocese. I have not had to journey to far off places on pilgrimage to experience the presence of the human and divine. It is here amongst us, in our people, our communities, our churches, our environment and our everyday moments. I must admit that the beauty of the jacaranda trees breaking through the green of our spring was just magical. The peace of Christ surrounds us.

Next weekend provides another opportunity for us to gather and touch our story, with the dedication of St John’s Chapel at Maitland. On Saturday, we witnessed the positioning of the last pinnacle on St John’s in preparation for the dedication. St John the Baptist Church has sat next to the Hunter River since 1846 and has undergone some great hardships for a building. Next weekend will see the unfolding of the next phase in this great building’s life. Our shared time together will allow us to experience the sentiment of the hymn ‘Ancient Words’

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Our faith is based on our gathering, praying, sharing stories and being formed so that we individually and collectively change. Without this connection our faith stagnates and possibly fails to be a living witness of hope and love. I am sure that the 80 weekend pilgrims have a deeper appreciation of what has gone before them and a greater sense of who they are as Catholics living in the Newcastle, Hunter and Manning areas.

I now share with you the Pilgrim’s Blessing which Bishop Bill gave to us before we set out on Saturday. I think it is an apt blessing for each of us each day:

Brothers and sisters, as we set out, we should remind ourselves of the reasons for our resolve to go on this holy pilgrimage. Our walk, remembering the arrival of Bishop Murray, is a pilgrimage of faith. This journey also remembers those who have gone before us, our families and fellow pilgrims. We remember the vision of Bishop Murray and the people of the diocese who worked with him to enable us to be where we are today.
So we ask God’s blessing for our walk.

All powerful God,
You always show mercy towards those who love you
and you are never far away from those who seek you.
Remain with your servants on this holy walk and guide their way in accord with your will.
Shelter them with your protection this day and, as their companion on the journey, bring them to their destination in safety.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.   Amen

May the Lord guide and direct our journey in safety.   Amen

May the lord be our companion along the way.   Amen

May the Lord grant that the journey we begin, relying on him, will end happily through God’s protection.    Amen

On this All Saints Day I hope you have a greater sense of connection to your own ancestors of faith. Pray for them and to them.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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