The Catholic Contribution to Australia: Pentecost Letter 2001
Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow
Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, to be with us. It is a time when we know God is at work within us. In this Centenary year of Federation, we reflect on our contribution as Australian Catholics to the life of our nation, and readily accept the challenge of making our future contributions to Australia, the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit
Consultation with groups of young people and the preparation of this Pentecost Letter had begun when the appointment of Archbishop George Pell as Archbishop of Sydney was announced on 26 March 2001.
The youth of the Melbourne Archdiocese revere the Archbishop as a leader, friend, and a man of God. This Pentecost Letter is published as a tribute to his remarkable leadership and his encouragement of young and old in faith in Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, over the past four and a half years.
Catholicism in Our Community
Since May 1803, when the first Mass was celebrated in Australia for a group of prisoners by a convict priest, Catholics tended to be identified by their faith and family life, which were keystones of the Catholic fighting spirit. From the 1870’s, Catholic schools were supported entirely by parishioners with heroic personal sacrifice. The Commonwealth did not begin to award science grants until 1964; the first government grants in Victoria were awarded in 1967.
Catholicism was distinguished by courage and perseverance in keeping the faith alive and in serving others. While Blessed Mary McKillop and her sisters, alongside priests and other female and male orders, provided great opportunity for education and a spirit of valuing their faith, Catholics tended to be restricted in their achievements in society.
Now we recognise all that has been achieved through our Catholic schools and movements. They exist to prepare young Australians for life in its fullest sense - for service to God as faith-filled followers of Jesus and to work for our brothers and sisters in the community. Sometimes this will involve meeting the challenge of unpopularity and standing up for what we know is right.
Australia’s first immigrants came mostly from Britain and Ireland. After the Second World War, large groups of migrants came from other countries of Europe and a second wave came in the 1960’s. More recently, new Australians from Asia, South America and many other nations have enriched our population.
Then and now, the hospitality shown by the Church in welcoming new Australians has been paramount. The Church became the place of meeting for people from diverse cultures who developed lifelong friendships. Young Catholics, especially, continue to encourage the opposition of racism and to cherish Australia’s rich diversity of races.
Catholics have been noted for strong family life, founded on love and self-giving. High teaching standards in Catholic schools gradually have enabled gifted young people to make their contributions to Australia in many spheres.
Marriage is acknowledged as a pact before God, and children as a blessing from him. Motherhood has always been highly valued as an opportunity to form young minds and hearts and as a contribution which shapes society.
Church teaching on the value of every human person has acted as an antidote to those who would reduce life to the level of a commodity, and permit abortion and euthanasia for convenience.
Catholics have always stood out against devaluing those who are weak or disabled because every person is unique, and treasured by God.
Catholics in Public Life
The Church teaches that, to recognise their God-given gifts, lay people should exercise leadership in building a decent society. This has found expression in the significant achievements of Catholics in public life and the professions, especially medicine and law, teaching, nursing and public service.
James Scullin, Joe Lyons, Ben Chifley and Paul Keating became Prime Ministers and Tim Fischer Deputy Prime Minister. Sir William Deane became Governor General and Sir James Gobbo was appointed Governor of Victoria. For more than 50 years, B.A. Santamaria worked for a better and more just society, led the Christian fight against communism and encouraged Catholics to be involved in trade unions and professional associations. Both Arthur CaIwell and Dame Mary Daly were heavily involved in the re-settlement of those who sought refuge in Australia after the Second World War.
Across the generations, bishops and priests have provided continuous leadership by offering spiritual support, friendship and a readiness to know the concerns of youth.
Australia has been immeasurably enriched by the leadership and service of Catholic women. Women are the backbone of parish life, and their ability to nurture faith is essential for the nation’s future.
Women continue to bring special gifts to society. Motherhood has most effectively shaped and inspired the young people who are vital to the Church of today and tomorrow. It will continue do so, well into the future.
Innovative leadership has been exercised by women religious in teaching, nursing and social work, and their ability to manage large institutions with fortitude and skill has been unique. Countless other women have served with great generosity under these dedicated leaders.
Migrant women have shown remarkable courage in being amongst the first in the workforce, while nurturing their families in an often strange and hostile environment. The work of Caroline Chisholm in improving the lives of immigrant women from 1838 to 1846 has been honoured ever since.
Today, because of the past leadership shown by women, many of those trained by women have taken up leadership positions in the professions. The majority of school principals, and of teachers, are women, as are pastoral associates in the parishes.
The medical, legal and social work professions, as well as wider society, all benefit greatly from women’s gifts. Leneen Forde, Governor of Queensland, Dame Roma Mitchell in South Australia, Mary Easson in N.S.W. politics and the author Jill Ker-Conway are exemplars of this.
Reconciliation with Indigenous Australians
A majority of Australians of all ages desire, as a matter of justice, to be as one with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, the original inhabitants of our land, who have suffered so much since the first white settlement.
We are aware of the generous efforts of many priests, religious and lay missionaries for their selfless work among the indigenous peoples. Although they were called upon to implement government policy, they have protected the poor against cruelty.
The Church is anxious to work towards a society which will allow all Australians to move forward together, in charity and hope.
Helping Those Who Suffer
Following the lead of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Catholic hospitals have welcomed all members of the community. The presence of the crucifix reminds those who suffer that they are sharing with Him who suffered far more, giving Himself "for the life of the world".
Catholic institutions give special emphasis to the dignity of each person, and the carers seek to see Christ in those for whom they care. A time of sickness is often the only time of reflection in a busy life, and the presence of chaplains, pastoral workers and spiritual help is deeply appreciated.
In an area of special challenge, the Archdiocese’s Mary of the Cross Drug and Alcohol Centre is seeking to make contact with each parish in an effort to bring practical assistance where it is most needed. The St Vincent De Paul Society seeks to help the homeless and the poor, and Centacare is trying to address family breakdowns with skilled and timely counselling.
Sport in Australia
Sport has long been valued in Australian life and the mateship evident in team sports builds morale. Don Bradman is our national icon and, almost as a matter of course, our successful sportsmen and sportswomen are regarded as national heroes.
Recently, Cathy Freeman and other Australian Olympians have occasioned great national pride. The public Christian witness of Matthew Hayden, Jim Stynes, Steve Lawrence and Luke Beveridge challenge us to show the value of Christianity in our daily life and work.
The Church is proud to be associated with sport in the Melbourne Cup Mass and the Footy Mass. At a time when excessive money can sometimes exert a corrupting influence in sport, we know that people listen and respect sports men and women who present a consistently Catholic way of life.
Australia's International Role
Australia has always sought to preserve openness to the world and to other people. After the Second World War, Australian missionaries and lay workers played a prominent part in the reconstruction of New Guinea in preparation for independence, which was granted in 71g75. Up to the present, many Australians, including priests, religious and laypersons from Melbourne, have continued to assist.
Since the independence of East Timor and the subsequent bloodshed, Australian soldiers and missionaries have been deeply involved in the country’s reconstruction.
Over the last five years, the Church’s Caritas agency has assisted in East Timor, New Guinea (in response to the drought, and the tsunami at Aitape), India, Honduras, Africa and Mozambique.
A particular challenge is the need for selfless love in the help, which is given non-conditionally, rather than for political or material advantage.
Sharing of Resources
In November 1986, Pope John Paul II in Hobart stressed that all of us have a duty to share in the great task of "humanising" the universe, if the world is to become a better place for personal and social development. Today, in a majority of families, both parents work, some to achieve a greater material prosperity, while many do so in order to make ends meet. Sadly, there is increasing inequality between rich and poor.
As a matter of social justice, Government, the Church and individuals need to resist the demands of globalisation that threaten fair working conditions and social arrangements. It is important that the dignity of all is respected, compassion is shown to those who are burdened, and support is given to families.
The New Millennium
The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. They bring to the world a life-giving vision, great skill and an abundant store of good will. They are challenged to give themselves to others -through marriage, public service, voluntary work, caring for the sick, teaching, work in the professions, and the special call to priesthood and religious life.
Their Catholic upbringing offers much for the service and enrichment of others.
Here are their own words:
Jesus Christ is the light of our world that we can present to society. Because He come as God and man, we see God’s real love and have a model of how to live.
"It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you
when nothing eke you find satisfies you"
John Paul II to Youth - 19 August 2000
He is our saviour; we are forgiven and freed. In our weakness, and when we fail or hesitate, it is He who offers us strong hope to persevere.
The glory of God is "a human being fully alive" (St Irenaeus). Our life is a journey of discovery of our unique talents and using them to enrich our family, community and society.
We acknowledge the dignity of every human life - each of us is a person loved by God:
in thankfulness for this precious gift, we seek to respect all life, especially those who are weak and defenceless.
The value of what we are and can do, rather than what we own, is proclaimed by an ability to see beyond externals into on exciting discovery of the goodness of people which often lies beneath their doubt or suffering.
We are fortunate to live in a land of beauty and material prosperity where we now have an opportunity to work with others for a just sharing of our country’s abundance for all in our community.
Personal testimony to Christ and his values is our humble response to the spiritual and material gifts lavished on us. By entrusting ourselves to Him, we will receive strength to follow Him every day and in every situation: to be "Saints of the new Millennium’:
Bishop Denis J Hart,
"May our commonwealth be a great nation
Not in name only but in reality and truth,
Encircling in its wide domain
A happy, brave, loyal and generous people.
....And may it be Australia’s crowning mission
To pull down the barriers of irreligious discord
And racial strife and build a glorious temple
Of abiding harmony and long-enduring peace" From Cardinal Moran’s Prayer for Federation, 1901