Archives for the month of: August, 2011

This blog is about Port Augusta. But I have just returned from playing pilgrim and wonder if my heart has moved as far as my body. You see, only after a long journey can I experience that unique feeling of coming home. From Galilee to the gulf, from Madrid to the mountains. All is the same, yet all now has a flavour of history, of a shared cultural universe that ties all our stories into one. The Holy Land speaks to our own sacred country. The birthplace of religious traditions whispers in love to the spirituality of the Dreaming. They share not only joy, hope and salvation, but memories of pain, of devastation, of reluctant healing.

Our pilgrimage occurred over the last three weeks, mediated through the countries of Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Spain. It was with a group of young Catholics from this country region, whose ultimate goal was to celebrate with over a million other young Catholics at World Youth Day Madrid. As might have been expected, the detour through the Holy Land brought our faith alive like nothing else. There is no other experience quite like having one of our group – a young Aboriginal man – baptised at the very site of Jesus’ own baptism on the River Jordan. Or celebrating Mass on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus preached, fished, called his apostles and walked on water. But the tranquil waters and sturdy vessel brought to mind the young seafarers that I’d left in Port Augusta. Now, back to reality, we still have 39 unaccompanied minors from Vietnam locked away in our Detention Centre after having survived at least 12 days at sea seeking asylum in Australia. They are also devout Catholics who dream about meeting the Pope, but their only tenuous wish is to be allowed to stay as refugees. On the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Easy words to repeat on pilgrimage; very difficult in the midst of a storm.

We visited the traditional sites of the angel’s annunciation to Mary (that she would give birth to the Son of God) and of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. At the latter there is a church adorned with memorials to the significant women of the Bible: Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, Judith, Mary, etc. One of our group, a young single mother, reflected on her own experience of the responsibility she was called to bear – raising a new life while maturing rapidly. She felt close to Mary and her female approach to God in that eternal yes: “Let it be with me according to your word.” At World Youth Day itself, the Sisters of Life shared a story of a woman who they had supported through her young pregnancy. She happened to encounter another woman in an elevator who was preparing to abort her child. The first woman not only witnessed to the hidden blessing of her own child, but predicted that the second woman would have a healthy girl. A few years later they ran into each other again. Not only was the second woman’s child a girl, but she had named it after the first woman, who had changed her life in that brief encounter. As I return to Port Augusta, I am privileged to share community with one of our Sisters who works with Aboriginal midwives. As their life expectancy is so much lower than that of non-Aboriginal Australia, this service builds trust and knowledge in safe and culturally appropriate birthing and mothering skills. I pray for a world where we can say to every young mother: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Our last stop in the Holy Land was that most holy of cities, Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, it is filled with people in religious garb – meeting, praying, singing and chanting together. Despite the crowded alleyways, our pilgrimage group was not at all out-of-place as we prayed the Stations along the Way of the Cross, singing quietly between them. This walk ended at the traditional place of Jesus’ cross, burial preparation area and tomb. Amidst throngs bustling to touch the place of the cross, candles, decorations and priests wandering around with incense, I sat for quite awhile on a bench at the side. Like Jesus’ women followers from Galilee, I kept “at a distance, watching these things.” Reflection fills action with meaning. We had other opportunities to reflect on the crucifixions that happen in our own times. One day we visited the Holocaust museum and watched the atrocities unfolding during Hitler’s regime. There were photos of Jews hung up by their necks in the middle of towns and miniature figurines of the condemned writhing in the gas chambers. The next day we heard a speaker from the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, whose 14 year-old daughter had been killed by a suicide bomber. Despite his pain, he had learned, in this country of conflict, the only way to stop the cycle of revenge: listening to the pain of the other. He said that the long journey to reconciliation can use the power of pain not to bring more death, but hope. To do this we don’t need walls but bridges…and schools and hospitals. We need to work together, across all religions, to bring light out of darkness. In Nazareth, we visited a replica tomb like the one that Jesus would have been laid in. Significantly, it was empty. The empty tomb for us is a sign: Jesus has risen, death does not have the final word. Jesus, in his humanity, experienced all that our world of pain and suffering can inflict. Yet, in his resurrection, God spoke another word of hope, that one day, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

References from the NRSV Bible: Mark 6:50, Luke 1:38, Luke 1:42, Luke 23:49, Revelation 7:17

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We have all been shocked by the recent events in Norway – the bombing and the shooting that has left so many families bereft. We are left dismayed by the killer, whose radical views exist all over the world in watered-downs forms – though they are usually not considered dangerous. We can’t label him – extremist, madman, or whatever. He was an individual influenced by ideas and opinions, which merged within him to create some sort of ideology that blessed cold-blooded murder. At first, when the news came through, many jumped to the conclusion that this was “yet another” fundamentalist Muslim. But, in fact, Anders Breivik called himself Christian.

There have been many excellent blogs and articles winding ’round this cyberweb. One reacted to the “Muslim, again” claim by noting some pertinent facts. 99.6% of European terrorist attacks have NOT been conducted by Muslim groups. In the US, the figure is 94%. Talk about labelling! Terrorism is a scourge on humanity when conducted by anyone – it does not make ordinary citizens ‘the enemy’. Neither Norwegians, nor Christians are now somehow responsible – though we are all affected.

What has been the response in Norway, however? Has it been cries for revenge and limitation of rights? No. The Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said, “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy.” The first funeral, of one of the young murder victims, was actually jointly conducted by a Muslim imam and a Lutheran minister. It was an 18-year-old Iraqi-born Kurdish refugee.

I am traveling this week on a pilgrimage through the Holy Land (for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Baha’is) to culminate in World Youth Day – an enormous Catholic youth event to be held in Spain this year. On the way, we are going to meet with a speaker from the Israeli-Palestinian Parent’s Circle. It is a group of hundreds of bereaved families, victims from both sides. Their mission is a joint reconciliation process between Palestinians and Israelis. These families have endured colossal tragedy in their lives – such as I could never imagine – yet their response has been one of peace. Acknowledgement of wrong, hard work for understanding and change, yet, ultimately, forgiveness.

Luke 6:27: “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”