Giving Life To Others
You may have read in the West Australian Newspaper earlier this year in February a special story of a little two year old called Jasmine who received the gift of a heart transplant in 2016.
The whole story is extraordinary really. At 8 months, in late 2015, Jasmine had trouble breathing. She was placed in an induced coma and rushed from Broome to Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth. Her condition was so bad that her parents, Jo and Dale, were told she needed a heart transplant to survive.
The family had to relocate to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital where Jasmine was hooked up to a 160 kg machine to keep her heart pumping while awaiting a new one.
Back in Perth this year, and at the age of two, Jasmine is just so well. Her mother Jo said “She doesn’t walk - she runs - and whenever you turn your back she’s up to no good. She is very active.” What a feat or a miracle we could say. The expertise of surgeons, doctors and nurses with modern day equipment; the heroic love of the parents who thought nothing of relocating to Melbourne for their daughter’s wellbeing; the generous support of the Charity ‘HeartKids’; and above all, the priceless gift of another young child’s heart.
The first time Jasmine’s parents were told about the need of a transplant, her mother immediately thought of what it really meant, “I just broke down and cried, because I thought, what makes my little family so special to receive an amazing second chance, when this other family, who will give us the second chance, won’t have one”.
Yes Jasmine’s story is a powerful life and death story. I believe that this remarkable human story can help us also appreciate Jesus much more and appreciate Easter much more. In other words it can help us appreciate Jesus dying and rising - Jesus dying so that we might have life and life to the full.
Jesus’ death and resurrection firstly frees us from the evil of sin. Sin affects us all, but Jesus our Saviour has come so that we might have “….salvation, through the forgiveness of our sins.” (Lk 1:77)
At the Last Supper, and in every Eucharist, Jesus is saying, “Drink all of you…for this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28)
By passing from death to life Jesus is now able to live within us. In baptism we not only die to sin but rise to new life, the Risen Life of Christ. Imagine and reflect often on that - our crucified and Risen Lord, our Life giving Lord, living within us moment by moment. We can’t feel it as we can our human heart beating, but his heart is beating just as really with love for us moment by moment.
There are few things that are more powerful than death, yet Jesus, by dying and rising, has conquered death and freed us from it - offering us all Life without end with Himself, our wonderful God and all the Communion of Saints.
These special Life giving gifts of Jesus are not meant to stop there. He wants us to be Life giving to so many other people.
When one looks back on one’s life, it wouldn’t take long to list the ways in which we have given Life to others - in small and big ways. Easter is a good time to think of how Jesus’ dying and rising can also inspire and strengthen us to continue in 101 different ways to be Life giving to others.
May this Easter be a rich and joyful one for each of us.
God Is With Us
We come once again to our heart-warming Feast and celebration of Christmas.
It is both a celebration of an event as well as a reminder of something that is always with us - the Incarnation. We have an Incarnate God. Our God of the universe is not only transcendent, i.e. above and beyond us, but is also intimately connected with us.
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn1:14). Because the Word, the Son of God, is among us it is also true that He is within us.
In our Church we are so blessed. We are certain that through Baptism and the Sacraments Jesus comes to live within us through His Holy Spirit. The regular celebration of the Eucharist nourishes, strengthens and grows that ‘Life’ of Jesus within.
Wherever and in whomsoever the Spirit of Jesus and the Father is, there also is Jesus our Incarnate God. In other words, Jesus the Son of God is part of our world and the lives of people - and very much so with ‘People of Goodwill’.
Where there is suffering, there is Jesus, giving courage and drawing good out of it. Jesus also provides help and healing through those working to relieve and heal suffering.
Where there is violence, there is Jesus offering another way and providing people who work for peace and justice.
Jesus is with all who work and toil, reminding them of the dignity of work and drawing forth much fruit from that work.
Where there is joy, there is Jesus, sharing and enhancing it.
Where there is love, there Jesus also is, perfecting and deepening it.
Where there are fears, Jesus is there giving courage and hope.
Where there is sorrow and grief, Jesus is there bringing comfort.
Jesus is in our homes, building up relationships and family life.
Jesus is with those working for the poor and for justice, inspiring them both by His example as well as His strong presence.
We could go on and on. What we can do as we look at the various situations in our lives, and around us, is to go to the Gospels and see how they, or rather how Jesus is connected to each happening.
When the ‘Word made flesh’ is given special names like Jesus (Our Saviour), Christ (The Anointed and Specially Chosen One), Lord, Master, Teacher, Rabbi, it is no wonder then that the Gospels also give Him that other special name Emmanuel - ‘God is with us’ (Mt 1:23).
One simple way I use is the Prayer of the Angelus. At the beginning of the day I start my prayer by quietly and reflectively praying the Angelus. In our Diocesan Office we pause together at midday to pray together the Angelus. One day please God, when bells are installed in our beautiful Cathedral, they will ring out the Angelus.
In the Angelus, using words from the Gospel with other prayers, we stop and remember how our Incarnate and loving God is part of our work, our lives, of all that we do and of all that happens to us.
Christmas and all that it means flows over to and affects the whole year - and the Angelus is one way of helping us appreciate that more.
I wish you all the rich fruits of Christmas both at this Season and for the year.
COLOUR OF CULTURE
The Agricultural Region of our state of Western Australia has been blessed with regular rains this year. Crops are growing well to the delight of the hard working and patient farmers.
In our Midwest Region a good season like this brings out from the earth a kaleidoscope of wild flowers. Add to this the many bushes and shrubs, and the country is ablaze with rich colours.
The people that populate our Great Southern Land - from the Traditional owners to the latest arrivals - bring a much greater richness and colour to our country.
On Sunday the 20th of August we celebrated the 102nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees. On this Sunday some Parishes encourage people to come in their National dress or costumes. Women generally outdo the men and their colourful dresses rival even the colours of our God created wild flowers.
The rich array of National dress symbolises something deeper - the richness and diversity of the cultures these countries have brought, and continue to bring, to Australia.
I experienced something of the variety of the people who make up our country on my recent Visitation / Confirmation Round of our Parishes in the Pilbara.
In Newman for example, I Confirmed 11 young people. Yet even in this small number, there were represented, together with those born in Australia, the countries of Zimbabwe, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and the Congo. These are only part of many more cultures in that Parish.
In South Hedland a farewell concert and meal was graciously organised as a Farewell for me. To the best of my memory there were Aboriginal people, together with Australian born and people from Samoa, India, Philippines, Fiji, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Tanzania and Nigeria. In Port and South Hedland there are some 70 different nationalities.
Some of the people at this function put on a cultural item, but all brought food, which of course displayed a great variety of National dishes. It was truly like a banquet.
We have Migrants in all our Parishes. What I observe, and especially in the Parishes I have just mentioned, is the harmony of our multicultural society. These people live together in the one town, many work together and as Parishioners pray together and happily socialise together.
Such is this openness to each other and respect for one another that people with quite diverse backgrounds form one community.
Obvious too is the contribution these people, together with the many Migrants who preceded them, have made to our country - to its development, culture, family life and values, and from our Churches point of view, Faith.
While the plight of Refugees is not something new, in recent years it has taken on worldwide proportions and therefore attention. Our country and other first world countries can take more to heart the words of Pope Francis for the 102nd World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He said, “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources, which are meant to be equitably shared by all. From this perspective, it is important to view migrants not only on the basis of their status as regular or irregular, but above all as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare”.
To respond to the plight of these people we and our countries need to not only open up our borders more, but even more our hearts. As Monsignor Hawes inscribed of the lentil of his front door at the Mullewa Presbytery, “Janus patet, cor margis” - The door is open but the heart is more widely open.
UNION WITH JESUS - THE KEY
The 24th Anniversary of my Ordination as Bishop recently coincided with my recovering from open heart surgery. At this time I could do very little. In fact it was a time when physically I was least able to do anything as Bishop in my whole twenty four years.
The Grace, the blessing ( apart from the healing via a very good heart Surgeon and excellent medical, nursing and home care ) was the time to reflect and pray in simple ways.
Apart from the gratitude I felt, since I was able do very little, a question came to me, "What does Priesthood mean? Where does it get its value and worth?"
My thoughts went back to a Priest, Fr Miloslav Vlk, who would later become the Archbishop of Prague. When he was ordained in 1968 in Czechoslovakia it was under Communist rule. He was allowed to Minister for a few years before being prohibited for some ten years and kept under surveillance. He was made to work as a window cleaner in the public streets.
During that time many priests left the priesthood and some married. Others, like Miloslav, at great risk, used to meet secretly of a night time with some of his fellow priests to support one another.
These priests read and reflected particularly on the power packed five chapters of John's Gospel, Chapters 13- 17. Here John puts the rich words of Jesus in the setting of the Last Supper.
Fr Vlk came to realise more deeply that the essential part of the Priesthood is being united intimately to Jesus the Priest, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Because of this oneness with Jesus and his fidelity to Him, even though he was prohibited from Ministering in the normal ways, he was still exercising his priesthood for the Church and World by cleaning windows.
Miloslav came to this realisation when he was lead to see that Jesus, who did so much good for others in his life and Ministry, did the greatest good of all when he could hardly move while nailed to the cross in great pain and agony.
This was the (Priestly) high point of Jesus' life and Ministry. It was then He redeemed the world, reconciling us to the Father. It was then He showed us most of all, the face of the Father's mercy.
The key for Fr Vlk in those ten years was this union with Jesus the Priest through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. That same key is there for me and for all priests too. Whether being very active or effectively laid low, how important it is to cultivate that special oneness Jesus has given us Priests through Holy Orders. The rest follows. He not only is with us, but He is able to work wonderfully through us to be a blessing for others.
As I reflected quietly on this my thoughts turned to all married couples, like Jim and Joan who were caring so well for me, whom Jesus had joined in the Sacrament of Marriage. When we say that "It takes three to get married" we are not talking of the third party being the priest, but Jesus. Jesus is the one who joins you and remains intimately one with you for the whole of your lives.
The more Married Couples value and cultivate this close union with Jesus, the more they will know how Jesus loves and accompanies them in all the ups and downs of their lives - and how His Power works through them to do so much good in their marriage, their family and beyond.
What of Religious and Single people? Your essential Sacrament (as is the fact for everyone) is your Baptism coupled with Confirmation. This is where through the Holy Spirit you are all intimately one with Jesus. In this way Jesus not only is with you in your lives and Vocations, but also powerfully loves and works in and through you for so much good.
Intimacy with Jesus through the Sacraments of Holy Orders, Marriage, Baptism and Confirmation grows ever more deeper through the regular nourishment of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is here that we are drawn ever more into union with Him in the quiet and depth of our being. Where we become One with Him, as He is One with the Father.
How blessed we all are! He is in us and we are in Him (John 15: 4-5 and17:20-21) through these Sacraments. A lot to chew over - this amazing Union with Jesus - and to grow in daily, for our own sakes and that of others He calls us to love and serve in our particular Vocation.
To sum up, the key to the value and fruitfulness of our lives and particular Vocation, whether very active or relatively inactive, is our Union with Jesus.
Or to put it in a way Pope Francis might say - the key to our being filled with and to spread the Joy of the Gospel - or the key to receiving and sharing the Mercy of God - is our close union with Jesus.
The Mercy of God in the Easter Mystery
Another word we know for Easter is Passover. It’s the word the Jews use for that memorable time in their Faith history when Moses led them from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, to freedom.
As slaves they truly were in a pitiable state. The Egyptians were relentless, and to keep them subdued they made the Jews work harder and harder. Eventually Pharaoh also decreed that all male children of the slaves should be killed.
God had mercy on his people when he chose and sent Moses to free them from their slavery and subjection.
Human slavery is still present today. There are children working for a pittance in sweat shops. There are people forced into prostitution. In some countries children are forced to take up guns and become soldiers and murderers. Such slavery is one of the greatest offences against people and their God given dignity.
There are many other ills that people suffer as well. There are addictions of all kinds. There is conflict, betrayal, broken relationships, the taking of life - especially the innocent, selfishness in so many forms, oppression of poor and defenceless people etc..
Pope Francis calls all this for what it is - sin and the power of the evil one at work.
Yes people need to be freed from the slavery and burden of all that.
Jesus is our true Moses offering freedom. Each one of us, as sinners and under the power of death, need to be freed. Jesus, through the power of his death and resurrection, offers that freedom to everyone. For those people suffering oppression caused by others, Jesus’ power can raise up others to work for their freedom and wellbeing.
On the other hand we are made for love and life. Apart from freeing us from all that is negative, Jesus through his risen life, and the power of his Spirit, offers that love and life to everyone.
This is the great mercy of the Father, given to us through Jesus. As Pope Francis wrote in his document proclaiming the Year of Mercy, “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy”.
I want to mention also the problem or mystery of sickness and suffering. This is so prevalent nowadays despite the huge advances of medicine and science. Where is the mercy of God here?
While there are many things we don’t understand and cannot find reasons for, we are quite certain of one thing through our Faith. Jesus Christ the Son of God is with every sick and suffering person.
Not only did God’s Son take on our human nature in the Incarnation, and so became one with each of us, but also by his horrific suffering and death, he is one with every person who suffers. Pope Francis recently said, “In the sick and suffering we can touch the crucified flesh of Jesus”.
Yes the mercy of God is with people in these difficult situations and comes to us again through the Easter mystery.
May more of this freedom, life and peace that Jesus offers, be with us and our world this Easter. In turn, through what we receive, may we in our own humble way, as well as world governments and powers, become the face of the mercy of God for others.
+The Most Rev. Justin J. Bianchini
Bishop of Geraldton
We have begun the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The purpose of this Year is clearly stated by Pope Francis when he wrote, “How much I desire that the Year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every human man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God”.
Many people may have a narrow understanding of mercy. There are words in sacred scripture which show how rich it truly is. It is described as a deep feeling of compassion, tenderness and kindness, moving people to respond to others needs.
I like very much the translation of the Benedictus that we use for our Daily Prayer of the Church, where mercy is described as, ‘The loving kindness of the heart of our God’. [Lk 1:78]
While Pope Francis promotes strongly the gift of mercy, it is not something new. Being of God, mercy has always existed.
In the Old Testament God was continually offering and showing this mercy to his people.
It was in His Son that God most of all showed us this wonderful mercy. As St Paul states ‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy’. Titus 3:4-5
Christmas, the greatest outreach of God to us, is first and foremost an outreach of God’s rich mercy.
As individuals and as a society we always need the mercy of God. It is there for the asking - as simple as that. In fact Pope Francis, in talking often as he does of God’s mercy, says how God is keener to share it with us than we are to ask it.
God also calls on us human beings to share that gift of mercy. Pope Francis constantly puts before the world and world leaders the plight of the poor, refugees, the unemployed, victims of war and terror.
While not neglecting the ‘big picture’, let us not lose sight of all the opportunities that are before us in our day to day living - in the home, at work, school and in the wider community. There are many such opportunities in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives.
Acts of mercy can only come from a merciful heart, and this can only come from the merciful heart of our God. Over this Christmastide it would be good and it would be important to contemplate the face of the Infant Jesus and the heart of this Infant God. Pope Francis points us in this direction by beginning his letter for the Year of Mercy with the words, ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy’.
Spending time with Jesus in prayer, will not stop there. Action will follow. St Therese of Lisieux, by her actions and writing, points this out. At one stage she had a sense that when she was kind to people it was Jesus who was doing this in her. As a result she came to realise that the more she loved Jesus the more he would work in her.
May our hearts this Christmas be filled more and more with the mercy of God shown to us in Jesus.
Care for our Common Home
This reflection of Bishop Justin's is adapted from Bishop Greg O'Kelly article in 'The Witness'.
Because of the enormous physical expanse of our Diocese, 1.3 million sq kms, going from Coorow and Leeman in the south, to Port and South Hedland in the north, and because we include fertile and arid lands, farming, pastoral stations, fishing and mining, producing cereal crops, and from mother earth minerals, oils and gas, the raising of sheep and cattle , and with the wild life of Kangaroo and Emu who flank our national crest, with the presence of the first Australians who bind themselves to the earth, and with all the majesty of the red earth and blue skies, with our coastal beauty, rugged gorges and expansive crops in season, a letter from the Pope on care for the Earth should be something that we, as a Diocese, embrace with thanks and delight.
But this letter of the Holy Father is far from a poetic description of nature. It starts with the song of praise of Saint Francis of Assisi, but moves quickly to affirm that care of our planet obliges us to be involved, remembering that the poor are being oppressed through neglect of our conduct.
Nations like the peoples of the Pacific do not create pollution, but their islands suffer because of the nations who do. And ecology is not about saving a polar bear on an ice flow, but embraces the need to do whatever we can to ensure access to clean drinking water for millions of people in developing countries such as Bangladesh.
If there is drought in our state, nobody dies. If a tropical harvest collapses, what it means for us is that prices rise but in Central America people starve.
This is not just Pope Francis trotting out a hobby horse. He refers back to Pope John XXIII, to Paul VI, to John Paul II, to Benedict, and each of those Popes has been addressing us about the need to take care of the earth seriously. We cannot say that we love God, and then help destroy God’s creation. Pope Francis in his encyclical quotes the Orthodox Patriarch, and he quotes sixteen Bishops Conferences from around the world, all concerned about care for the earth.
Humanity has to do what it can to reduce its role in global warming. We are called to be stewards of creation, not destroyers of it. The imbalance between richer and poorer nations is often the fault of the richer. Great areas of forest in the Amazon, one of the earth’s lungs, are stripped away daily to make room for cattle, to supply a meat market. The Pope warns us against leaving a planet of debris, desolation and filth for the generations yet to come.
The word encyclical literally means a letter that goes around, like a circular. Normally it is addressed by the Pope to the Bishops of the Church, but Pope Francis has addressed this one to the whole world, making it an urgent challenge to all who call this planet home. ‘In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ [para 3].
The Pope certainly addresses the Encyclical to World Leaders, Scientists and people who have power and influence. He calls for international cooperation and solutions in this matter.
Pope Francis also calls on each person and says that doing small things like ‘turning off the lights’ are important.‘Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices’ [para 211].
The Pope also points to the family where we can all learn so much. ‘In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enable us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for wat we have been given, to control our aggressiveness and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings’ [para 213].
Every effort no matter how small can help. ‘We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile’ [para 212].
Yes all of us who call this planet home are called by the Pope to work together to protect the wellbeing of the earth and to defend the poor.
Some Questions and Answers about Laudato Si
What’s new in Laudato si’? What’s in this document that we have not seen from the Church before?
The document is a call to conversion and action. While Laudato si’ fits perfectly within Catholic tradition, it is saying with new force that concern for the environment is no longer “optional” for a believer. Caring for the environment is now even more clearly and surely part of Church teaching.
Why does the Pope pay little attention to the population problem?
Laudato si’ acknowledges that population density can be a complicating factor in some areas. But people are not the problem. Waste is a much bigger problem: our throwaway culture and our tendency to consume without reflecting on our real needs, both material and spiritual.
The Encyclical seems to make technology and finance enemies. Isn’t that a bit simplistic, even retrograde?
Technology and financial markets can be wonderful instruments, as long as they are serving human beings, enhancing human dignity, as opposed to making relatively few very rich and a lot of people slaves. This calls for honest debate. What constitutes real technological progress? Where does it help human dignity, but where does it degrade it? Or financial markets: are they helping to spread the wealth? Are they helping to bring people out of poverty?
Laudato si’ argues against fossil fuels. And yet cheap energy has done a lot to lift the poor out of poverty. Does the Pope want to deny them that possibility?
No. The Pope wants the wealthy nations, and those that have polluted more, to cut back on fossil fuels. He argues that alternative energy is available for all. But that requires solidarity: wealthy nations sharing their profits, helping the poorer nations to develop alternative energy sources.
It appears that the Pope is backing global agricultural planning on a massive scale (n.129, 164). That’s not really his job, is it?
Neither the Pope, nor the bishops around the world, are going to provide technical solutions. But they will speak on behalf of those with no voice. That’s all the Pope is doing: saying that we either change the way we are producing crops, or we’re headed for trouble. It will be for others - conscientious laypeople - to work out the solutions.
Why is the Pope so anti-market? (for example: 189, 190) Isn’t this just a Latin American prejudice?
Look at the unemployment rates among young people in Europe, and the number of people risking their lives to leave Africa. There’s nothing Latin American about this at all. The global economy right now is simply not serving the great majority of people. That’s all he’s saying. Yes, plenty of wealth has been created by the market economy; but there’s also too much absolute misery, and plenty of indifference to go with it.
Does Laudato si’ promote wealth re-distribution? N. 193 seems to suggest that.
Laudato si’ promotes solidarity among people and nations. Pope Francis has no magic formula for how the wealth should be shared, but he certainly is calling on those who have more than they can eat to open their minds and their hearts, and to share with those who don’t have enough.
A Prayer for our Earth
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and
forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognise that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for
justice, love and peace. Amen.
Support for our Middle East Christian Sisters and Brothers
After our Conference of Australian Bishops in May, I decided I would share a little news of the tragic plight of Christians in the Middle East.
In our Conference there are three Bishops, or Eparchs, of the Churches which originate from the Middle East:- the Maronite Church from Lebanon; the Melkite Church mainly from Syria; and the Chaldean Church from Iraq. Over the years, and in recent times, members of these Churches have migrated to Australia and so each of these Churches now have a Bishop here.
We have two Bishops Conferences a year, one in May and one in November. At our November Conference in 2014 the Bishops of the Middle East spoke of the distressful situation of their, and our, fellow Christians in the Middle East. The situation has arisen because of the terrible conflict in these countries and the persecution, isolation and killing of Christians, particularly in Iraq.
The three Bishops, in speaking of the distressful situation spoke also of their concern for these people and the support that they and their own Dioceses wish to offer. They also asked for the support of the wider Church in Australia.
So dear people we turned to you. We asked for your prayers and financial support for them last December. From a quick collection one Sunday last December our Diocese raised $5,000. Sincere thanks.
A delegation of five Bishops - the three Middle Eastern Bishops and the Archbishops of Canberra and Tasmania - between the 15th - 19th December 2014 visited Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and the internally displaced people in Erbil, Kurdistan, which is a region of Northern Iraq. They brought our prayers and our financial support. Almost a half million dollars was collected by Christmas from the Middle East and Roman Catholic Churches in Australia. Of this approximately one sixth was given to Caritas Lebanon, where there are refugees from Syria as well as Iraq, and five sixths approximately was given to the Chaldean Diocese in Erbil, Iraq. This is the more recent hardest hit area.
We were given some sad facts about Iraq. In 1993 there were approximately one million Christians there. By 2014 there were only approximately 200,000 remaining. From 2013 on more than 1,000 Christians have been killed, including one Bishop and five Priests. At present there are some 120,000 Iraqi Christian refugees from Mosul currently living in Erbil, north of Iraq.
The advance of ISIS has been described as ‘slow-motion genocide’.
Churches have been destroyed, Monasteries attacked, Congregations have been bombed during Worship and entire cities purged. The visiting Bishops were struck by the huge difference that they experienced between simply following the news about persecuted Christians, and actually going there and witnessing their plight, listening to them and hearing their stories. These first-person narratives moved them to tears and brought home how critical the situation really is. Ongoing action, both spiritual and temporal, is so much needed.
These Bishops visited the refugees camping out in tents and in uncompleted buildings and having to survive in harsh winter conditions. They were told of how they had been subject to horrors, driven out of their homes to save their own lives and those of their children. These displaced people now struggle with uncertainly about their future. They simply do not know whether they have any possibility of returning, or if they will be able to stay where they are, or even immigrate.
There are thousands of children deprived of hygienic living conditions, without school for lengthy periods of seven months or more.
Apart from all the deprivation these people have endured, the Bishops said that it was even more painful to hear that these displaced persons expressed how they felt they had been forgotten, even abandoned by their brothers and sisters in the western world.
As I listened to this catastrophe I felt that because it was so huge what could such a delegation achieve.
It was true that prayers have been offered for them and that some material aide from the Church in Australia has been given to them. The visiting Bishops said that coming as they did and representing the Church in Australia, the people found their visit a real morale boost. We also know that Pope Francis is very much aware of these situations, regularly asks prayers for the people and has sent his Secretary of State with financial help to visit them also. I have also read since then that Conferences of Catholic Bishops in Canada, America, France, Italy and Germany are also reaching out to the people in these areas.
I thought I would write this short article so that we would be a little more informed about these tragic situations which affect so many people including our fellow Christians. I write also to ask your continued prayers for these people in the present plight. Let us also pray that countries might rise up to work together to stop these atrocities and to restore peace to these places that are cradles of Christianity.
Because this sad situation is little known and understood in the western world and among western Governments, at our Bishops Conference we decided to take further action. Our Conference endorsed the proposal of the Middle East Bishops that there be a joint Committee established consisting of members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference with members also from the Bishops and Representatives of the Middle Eastern Churches. The group of Bishops who made the pastoral visit in December would form the foundational group. It would have the following tasks:
1. Liaising with the Australian Government and where necessary the State Governments.
2. Assisting the media in obtaining consistent and accurate reporting of the events in the region.
3. Acting as a provider of general information and resources regarding the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
While the Bishops in their Report did not ask for more financial aid, if people wish to contribute they can do so by sending a cheque made out to ‘Melkite Catholic Eparchy’ and post it c/- Sue Nabaki, PO Box 620, Greenacre, NSW, 2190. See our Diocesan Website for the Electronic Funds option.