Mia’s Confirmation

On 14th August 2016, my daughter Mia was confirmed into the Lutheran Church of Australia at St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Box Hill. As part of the confirmation service, all of the candidates presented their personal “faith statement” and a “faith project”. Here is Mia’s full statement of faith, followed by a video of her (abbreviated) statement before the congregation at St Paul’s and the video that she made as her faith project.

I’ve grown up in a very Christian family. My dad being Catholic and my mum Lutheran gave me a wider sense of the Christian community. My dad has worked for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne for as long as I can remember. Occasionally he’d bring me along to things like Iftar diners and tea ceremonies that he was invited to as a part of his work. This meant that from a very young age I was not only aware of Christian traditions but those of other faiths as well. It seemed to me that beliefs were something children inherited from their parents, passed on like any family tradition.

My sibling, Mad, stopped coming to church when I was thirteen years old. This sparked a realisation that you are the only one in control of your own beliefs. Yes, my family might plant the seed of faith, but it is up to me to nurture and grow my faith into more than the stories I have been told as a child.

I went through a time of questioning where I took myself right back to the basics and asked myself: “Do I believe in God?” “Do I believe in Jesus?” “Do I believe in the Holy Spirit?”. When I confirmed that these were indeed my personal beliefs, I began to explore what being Christian would mean for me and my life, besides just going to church. This is when God truly became real to me.

God the Father is beyond understanding. I can never fully wrap my mind around how God has always and will always exist. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2)

God our Father is intelligent and rational. Knowing more than any of us could learn in our lifetimes because he created everything there is to know about. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God our Father is loving. Sacrificing his own Son for our sake. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “(John 3:16)

It is both a great comfort and incredibly humbling, to know that such a great God looks out for me.

God the Son, became fully human in Jesus. With full human experience he carried our sins and bore our pain on the cross as a divine sacrifice. “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus is a teacher. He explained what we couldn’t understand, so that we might use the knowledge to live as God intends. (See the many parables Jesus told to give us insight.)
Jesus is a healer. He reached out to those who suffer, not only through the miracle of physical healing but through spiritual renewal. “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Luke 5:23-24)

Jesus brought us a second chance, he brought us new life through the forgiveness of sins. This amazing and painful sacrifice is a constant reminder to me of how eternal God’s love is.

God the Holy Spirit is our connection to both God the Son and God the Father. The Holy Spirit came after Jesus returned to heaven, and keeps the fire of our faith burning. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” (John 14:16)

The Holy Spirit is a guide. Helping us to guide others to faith, giving us gifts we need to spread the word. “Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:7-8)

The Holy Spirit draws us into community. Together with the Holy Spirit we can become the body of Christ, each working to do what we were called to do. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God here amongst us, like a hand holding mine as I journey through a day.

As someone who suffers from anxiety, the hope and the reassurance that I have in Jesus Christ is invaluable. When those negative and unhelpful feelings well up inside of me I know I can turn to Jesus. I have on my bedside table a little cross stitch that says “Before you go to sleep give your troubles to God, he’ll be up all night anyway.”

I try to pray every night and I find great comfort in knowing that whatever troubles or anxieties I have, I will not have to carry them alone. My relationship with Jesus is formed on that knowledge that He is always with me and that his love is steadfast. I don’t have to double guess his motives or fear that I will be deemed unworthy, for the sacrifice He made for my sake makes everything clear.

I want my faith to be evident in all aspects of my life. I want people to see Jesus in my life, not only through me talking about God but through my actions. I do find that it is being around people with strong faith, who show it in both actions and words which strengthens my faith. I’d like to be able to do the same for those around me.

I find myself being self-conscious about my faith around others my age; in a time where most of them only think of the church as part of their most boring school class, or the thing their grandparents drag them to, or people desperate to brainwash them into attending services. I wish to overcome this self-consciousness and to be able to share what I believe with others without stopping myself from saying what I truly believe for fear of seeming “too Christian”.

My faith has brought so much joy to me. It connects me to family and friends as well as to my creator. I have been blessed to have grown up surrounded by faith, and to have had the opportunity to celebrate many Easters and Christmas’s at church as a part of this community. The people I have met here have provided me with an incredible support network that has supported me and will continue to support me on my faith journey.
At this stage of life when I am figuring myself out and finding where I fit in the world, my faith is the solid rock beneath my feet. With my faith in Jesus Christ comes the knowledge that I have a purpose and that everything about me is so for a reason. I don’t know about any of you, but that gives me the greatest feeling of wonder and awe.

Confirmation Verse

Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”


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Hebrews 8: “The Old Covenant is Obsolete”

In Hebrews 8:13, the writer says that “In speaking of a new covenant [through Jeremiah the prophet], he [the Lord] makes the first one obsolete.”

That seems clear enough. But which covenant is the writer referring to: the one with Abraham or at Sinai? Clearly, according to verse 9, the covenant made at Sinai. So nothing in this passage abrogates the covenant with Abraham, and the promises made to Abraham’s descendants.

Verse 9 also points out that it wasn’t God who broke faith with the covenant, but the house of Israel/Judah. God declares how he is going to fix this. He is going to make a new covenant specifically “with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah”. So the New Covenant is clearly seen as the way in which God will remain faithful to his Old Covenant promises. The Old Covenant may be “obsolete” (because the human party broke their side of the deal), but God remains faithful to his promises and keeps his side of the deal – specifically in instituting the new and more perfect covenant based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. But note carefully that Jeremiah doesn’t say God is making this new covenant with the Nations/Gentiles – he is making it with the House of Israel in order to perpetuate his Covenant faithfulness with them.

Here I think the discussion in paragraph 18 of the Vatican document “The Gifts and the Calling of God…” points us in the right direction. Hebrews 8 never implies or states that the “obscelesence” of the First/Old Covenant means that God has rejected his promise of election and faithfulness to his people Israel. Rather the statement that “the first covenant is obsolete” arises in the context of a comparison of the two priesthoods – the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

We don’t know whether Hebrews was written before or after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, but it was obviously written fairly close to the event, and it provides a fascinating snapshop from a moment in time when everything was in violent flux for the Jews – both Christian and non-Christian. The writer wishes to demonstrate beyond doubt that the priesthood of Christ surpasses that of Aaron in the same way that the original thing surpasses a copy or image of it. The Real Thing has come, so the copy or image no longer serves any purpose. It is “obsolete”. Curiously, (most) modern day Jews would agree that the Aaronic priesthood is “obsolete”. For them, since the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the cult of the first covenant has been replaced with the calling to study and live by the Torah.

But nothing in Hebrews 8 suggests that the promises of God to his people Israel – of everlasting love and election – have been “annulled” along with the “obselesence” of the Aaronic cult. On the basis of Romans 9-11, I don’t think it is possible to teach any such thing.

At the start of Romans 9, Paul says that “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” etc “belong” to “Israel according to the flesh”. I think that the genitive of the relative pronoun (wn) used here repeatedly to convey the idea of “belonging” must carry a present tense idea – ie. Paul is not saying that these things “once belonged” to Israel, such that they are now are in the past. For him, they are very much in the present (even the priesthood, although that isn’t specifically mentioned – he does use the term latria “the worship” which might be intended to encompass the temple and the priesthood). There are many other interesting elements in his list – including a reference to plural “covenants”, which according to Paul still belong to Israel.

In the rest of chapter nine, Paul aims to show that although these promises are made to “Israel according to the flesh”, they are not restricted to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor indeed are all who are “Israel according to the flesh” heirs to the promise. Nevertheless, if Paul thought that “fleshly” Israel had simply been replaced holus bolus in God’s estimation with “spiritual” Israel (ie. the Church), why would he bother with all the angst and worry covered in next two chapters of his letter about the destiny of “Israel according to the flesh”?

Chapter 10 of Romans then says that “Christ is the end of the Law”. Not “end” in the sense of finished and thrown away, but in the sense of “goal” – Christ is the Telos of the Law. This fits perfectly with Jesus’ own saying that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it (Matt 5:17). Now, I take “Law” in Romans as pretty well always to refer to “Torah” (rather than some Lutheran idea of the demands of good works as opposed to the Gospel of faith without works). The Law is not the same thing as the Covenant (in Chapter 9, Paul lists them separately). So here we need to ask what the relationship between Christ and the Torah is. Hebrews 8 was not about the Torah, but about the Priesthood. We no longer have a group of people who practice the old covenant priesthood, but we do have a group of people who are very attached to the Torah, ie. the modern Jews.  “The Gifts and the Calling of God…” asks this question and suggests a few ideas (not all of them satisfactory) – but the document does firmly reject the idea that there are “two paths” – one via Torah, and one via Christ.

In Romans 11:1, Paul comes to the point: “Has God rejected his people?” Christians for centuries have answered this question in such a way as to imply “Yes, he has.” Today, I would hope that all Christians can say with Paul an emphatic “me genoito”!! May it never be said! The Old Covenant Priesthood may certainly be obsolete now that a better and far more excellent and incomparable Priesthood has been instituted. The Torah is certainly not, apart from the righteousness of God revealed in Christ, another path of salvation. But even we Christians still hold the Torah in such esteem as to include in in our scripture and call it the “Word of God”. So it hasn’t by any means been “abolished”, let alone made “obsolete” as an historical artifact.

All this being true, what about God’s promises to Israel: Are his love for them and his election of them as his people “obsolete”. Paul’s “May it never happen!” is all the more emphatic because his whole argument in Romans centres on the fact that through Christ, the Gentiles have been grafted onto the olive tree which is the People of the Covenant, ie. Israel (Romans 11:17ff). Paul’s image doesn’t say that the old olive tree is now dead and that God has planted a completely new one. As in the prophecy of Jeremiah in Hebrews 8, the new Covenant is precisely aimed at ensuring that the promises of God to Israel contained in the old Covenant remain firmly in place, while at the same time gathering all the Nations into God’s Covenant with Israel. That is what makes the “new covenant” new – not that it excludes the people of the First Covenant, but rather that it includes with them all the Nations as well.

So in Paul’s words: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2), and “do not be arrogant toward the branches – remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18), and finally “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

So here is the thing: When Saint John Paul II said that the Covenant of God with the Jews was continuing and valid, he was specifically speaking of God’s own promises of commitment to the people of Israel (whom he had no problems identifying with modern day Jews). I could chose a number of different passages, but Avery Dulles chose this one in his First Things essay in November 2005:

Pope John Paul II, whose theology was deeply affected by personalism, spoke of the Jews as a covenant people. In an address in Rome on October 31, 1997, he discussed the act of divine election that brought this people into existence: “This people is assembled and led by Yahweh, creator of heaven and of earth. Its existence is therefore not purely a fact of nature or of culture in the sense that the resourcefulness proper to one’s nature is expressed in culture. It is a supernatural fact. This people perseveres despite everything because it is the people of the covenant, and despite human infidelities, Yahweh is faithful to his covenant. To ignore this most basic principle is to adopt a Marcionism against which the church immediately and vigorously reacted, conscious of a vital link with the Old Testament, without which the New Testament itself is emptied of meaning.”

In saying that God is faithful to his covenant with the Jewish people, Saint John Paul II was not saying that the Old Testament priesthood remained valid, or that Torah was a another path of salvation apart from the Righteousness of God revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. He was simply making the very point about God’s faithfulness to his covenant that Jeremiah made in his prophecy of the New Covenant, which is: God has not rejected the People with whom he first made his Covenant. The New Covenant in Christ does not exclude the Jews, but allows us Gentiles to enter with Jewish people into God’s continuing Covenant commitment.

I believe that this is not only what John Paul II meant, but also what the Jewish people today mean when they ask us to recognise the continuing validity of God’s covenant with them. They do not use the language of “salvation” that is common among Christians. We may argue about whether the Jews (as Jews) are “saved” or not, but that isn’t their concern. Their worry is that Christians have taught for 2000 years that, because they did not receive Jesus Christ as their Messiah at his coming, God has rejected them, that they are no longer his people, in fact that they are guilty of killing God himself and are therefore themselves condemned to be wretched, homeless wanderers upon the face of the earth, to be marked out like Cain for their guilt.

It is in contrast to this “teaching of contempt”, that the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have all affirmed the ongoing validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. They mean that God has not rejected his people, but remains faithful to them.

And this is exactly how the Jews interpret the Church’s new stance. Here, for example, is the writing of a Jew, Edward Kessler (on page 30-31 of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Encounter):

As well as acknowledging the Christian contribution to Jewish suffering, institutional statements illustrate a second revolution in Roman Catholic and Protestant attitudes towards Jews and Judaism. They are reawakening to the Jewish origins of Christianity and are reconsidering the meaning of the mission of , and the mission to, Israel.

They have renounced many of the triumphalist doctrines, most significantly the renunciation of the teaching of the divine rejection of the Jewish people since the time of Jesus – in other words, the divine covenant with the Jewish people is now no longer viewed as having been annulled. According to the 1980 Evangelical Church of the Rhineland statement:

“We believe the permanent election of the Jewish people as the people of God and realize that through Jesus Christ the church is into the covenant of God with his people.”

For its part, Nostra Aetate taught Christians that “the Jews remain most dear to God” who “does not repent of the gifts he makes nor of the calls he issues”. John Paul II spell it out in the early years of his pontificate as follows: God’s covenant with the Jewish people had never been broken, retains eternal validity; God does not renege on his promises (cf. Romans 11:29). If Jews were not rejected, then Judaism was not a fossilized faith, as had been taught previously, but a living, authentic religion.

Note that there is nothing in any of his claims about the old testament priesthood or about salvation. None of that concerns today’s Jews. What concerns them is that the Church now recognises that God has not rejected his people, that they remain most dear to him, and that they should not be molested or obstructed in the exercise of what they hold to be their religious obligations as a people.

I think we can in fact go further than that and say a great deal more, but surely we can at least admit that much, even if, on the basis of Hebrews 8, a Christian might still find himself compelled to say that “the old covenant is obsolete”.

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On the Salvation of the Jews etc.

An email list to which I belong recently drew my attention to this post by Fr Hunwicke on his blog: “Nostra aetate; its authority; Judaism; good news”

In this post, he reports the comments of one Archbishop Pozzo, “an official within the CDF”, about Nostra aetate.

“The Secretary for the Unity of Christians said on 18 November 1964 in the Council Hall about Nostra aetate ‘As to the character of the declaration, the Secretariate does not want to write a dogmatic declaration on non-Christian religions, but, rather, practical and pastoral norms’. Nostra aetate does not have any dogmatic authority and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognise this declaration as dogmatic. This declaration can only be understood in the light of tradition and of the continuous Magisterium. For example, there exists today, unfortunately, the view – contrary to the Catholic Faith – that there is a salvific path independent of Christ and His Church. That has also been officially confirmed last of all by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself in its declaration Dominus Iesus. Therefore any interpretation of Nostra aetate which goes into this direction is fully unfounded and has to be rejected”. 

Fr Hunwicke relates this comment to the December 2015 document from the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews ““The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29)“.

In response to this, I commented on the email list that “There is no necessary contradiction between the conviction that the covenant of God with Israel perdures and the teaching that apart from Christ and his Church there is no salvation.”

One correspondent asked me to explain how this squares with Hebrews 8:13 “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Another was more daring: he wanted me to answer the following question:

“Will a modern faithful Jews who does not confess belief in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of our Lord, and received Baptism end up in Heaven or Hell?”

So, here is my attempt to answer both questions.

On the topic of Hebrews 8:13, the Vatican document “The Gifts and the Calling of God” devotes a short paragraph (para. 18) to this specific topic.

18. There have often been attempts to identify this replacement theory in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle, however, is not directed to the Jews but rather to the Christians of Jewish background who have become weary and uncertain. Its purpose is to strengthen their faith and to encourage them to persevere, by pointing to Christ Jesus as the true and ultimate high priest, the mediator of the new covenant. This context is necessary to understand the Epistle’s contrast between the first purely earthly covenant and a second better (cf. Heb 8:7) and new covenant (cf. 9:15, 12:24). The first covenant is defined as outdated, in decline and doomed to obsolescence (cf. 8:13), while the second covenant is defined as everlasting (cf. 13:20). To establish the foundations of this contrast the Epistle refers to the promise of a new covenant in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 31:31-34 (cf. Heb 8:8-12). This demonstrates that the Epistle to the Hebrews has no intention of proving the promises of the Old Covenant to be false, but on the contrary treats them as valid. The reference to the Old Testament promises is intended to help Christians to be sure of their salvation in Christ. At issue in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not the contrast of the Old and New Covenants as we understand them today, nor a contrast between the church and Judaism. Rather, the contrast is between the eternal heavenly priesthood of Christ and the transitory earthly priesthood. The fundamental issue in the Epistle to the Hebrews in the new situation is a Christological interpretation of the New Covenant. For exactly this reason, “Nostra aetate” (No.4) did not refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews, but rather to Saint Paul’s reflections in his letter to the Romans 9–11.

I admit that I have struggled with the explanation they give there. Perhaps a whole chapter would have been more helpful. But I think I understand it to be saying that what has been made “obsolete” is the priesthood and cult of the first covenant, not the promises of God to his people contained in the first covenant. Thus (paradoxically) the very passage which promises a “new covenant” is itself a promise of the “old covenant”!

To my mind, this perfectly matches what St Paul says in Romans 9-11. I passionately believe that God has not rejected his chosen people (cf. Rom 11:2) and that God does not repent of his gifts and promises (cf. Rom 11:29). Indeed with St Paul, we may say that

“as regards the Gospel, they are enemies for your sake [I take this as a reference to 11:25 – that without the “partial hardening” of Israel according to the flesh, the Gentiles would never have had a share in the Kingdom]; but as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” (Romans 11:28)

This is how St Paul understood the reaction of his people in his day to the Gospel. He wrote that “God has consigned all [Israel] to disobedience, so that he may have mercy on all [Israel]”? Thus he concludes that, by some mystery, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26). For this reason, I am deeply uncomfortable with the challenge to make a call on the damnation/salvation of any member of the house of Israel, let alone Israel as a whole.

Of course, when I confirm that God’s covenant with the Jewish people remains valid, I am not saying that there are now two paths of salvation – one through Torah and one through Jesus. Paragraph 25 of the “The Gifts and The Calling” specifically rejects this idea. I am saying that the promise he made to Israel in his covenant with Abraham and at Sinai (ie. that they would be his own chosen people and that he would never take his love from them) remains forever valid and has not and cannot be rescinded. Jesus Christ does not abolish this promise, but fulfills it.

So can a person who does not explicitly confess the name of Jesus and hold the doctrine of the Holy Trinity be “saved”?

I believe firmly that the redemption of the world will be accomplished and can only be accomplished through the Lord Jesus Christ – ie. “In his name” – and in “no other name”. I am certain too that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). But I am not sure sure that this implies the opposite, ie. That whoever *does not* explicitly confess the name of Jesus and hold to the doctrine of the Trinity will not be saved.

I think the Athanasian Creed is partly the culprit here, when it says that

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

I am not so sure that we rightly understand this statement if we interpret it as saying that only those who explicitly confess the doctrine contained in the Athanasian Creed may be saved.

One could, for instance, make it say that Protestants are not saved because they do not hold “the catholic faith”. This would, of course, be incorrect, because in context, the Creed itself defines what it means by “the Catholic faith”, ie. not everything that the Catholic Church today teaches and professes to be true, but rather the particular doctrine concerning Christ and the Holy Trinity that is expressed in this Creed as opposed to some other of contrary version of the faith.

But also, taking it in its historical context, this Creed is clearly intended as a condemnation of the heresies of Arianism, and Unitarianism and other heretical variations of the Christian doctrines of Christ and the Trinity. It does not intend to damn to hell all individual human beings who have ever lived or ever will live who do not specifically know and confess the words of this creed. Not even the Church holds that, as the Church explicitly teaches the salvation of the Old Testament patriarchs of Israel – none of whom ever explicitly held or confessed the faith outlined in this Creed.

Recently a friend pointed out to me that the Letter to the Hebrews (11:16) describes the faith required to “please God” and “draw near” to him as 1) to believe that he exists and 2) to seek him. It is interesting to compare this to St James, who says that

“religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

Jesus himself describes the Last Judgement in Matthew 25 in such a way to suggest that “the righteous” are rewarded for their acts of mercy, even though they did not explicitly know Jesus himself. And then, even Jesus warns us that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 7:21).

I am also interested in the fact that when we begin to talk the language of salvation, we immediately begin to talk about “individual” salvation – when it is very common in the scriptures to talk of the salvation “of all Israel” (as Paul does in Romans 11:26) or “of the nations”.

All this is New Testament teaching, which for the sake of this argument I am just relating to the Jewish people (although of course it relates to Muslims as well, and for that matter to anyone who believes that God exists and who seek him!).

I know that others will quote to me passages such as Matthew 10:32-33 (but surely this is a promise/warning to those who already believe in Christ?), or Matthew 3:9 (I am not a “universalist” – I know that exclusion from the people and Kingdom of God is a real possibility), or Romans 9:6-8 (but Paul answers this himself in Romans 11).

I come back to what I said earlier: I believe that God has redeemed the world in and through Jesus Christ his Son, and that all salvation will be through him.  – but I am prepared to see God working his salvation through the name of Jesus in individuals, and nations and places even apart from the explicit confession of his name. And honestly, I think I have the New Testament at my back on this issue.

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“What is wrong with Pope Francis?”

Participants in the 2016 Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Winter Conference (that's me in front with beret)

Participants in the 2016 Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia Winter Conference (that’s me in front with beret)

“What Is Wrong With Pope Francis?” That is the question Rod Dreher asks in this article in the American Conservative, sent to me on an email list to which I belong (and which, incidentally, I have often thought of leaving because of the negative experience reading it gives me, but which I persist in because I wish to be a) a part of the conversation, b) know what the conversation is in the first place).

The article is about Pope Francis’ comments on the plane coming back from Krakow:

“If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent,” Pope Francis said, dismissing Islamic State as a “small fundamentalist group” not representative of Islam as a whole.

“In almost all religions there is always a small group of fundamentalists,” even in the Catholic Church, the pope said, though not necessarily physically violent. “One can kill with the tongue as well as the knife.”

A respondent on the email list asks:

Does anyone know who or which group the Pope is referring to as being one of those dreaded “Catholic Fundamentalists”?

Pope Francis, as ever, doesn’t make a very good argument for the point he is trying to make. He does say that there are plenty of violent Catholics, which is true, but most of us will struggle to think of a case of an atrocity carried out by Catholics in the name of the Catholic faith in our living memory (perhaps Northern Ireland??).

But in the current climate it might be a good thing to immerse ourselves deep in history once more (something that Cardinal Newman highly recommended as being of the greatest help to an authentic Catholicism).

When we do that, it will not be hard to find cases of violence carried out in the name of the Catholic faith by Catholics against non-Catholics – violence justified by the fact that the victims are “the enemies of Christ” (either actively fighting against Christians or – on the other end of the spectrum – simply refusing to accept the Christian religion as their own).

Now granted there are many myths and exaggerations in this department. I highly recommend reading Rodney Stark’s new book “Bearing False Witness” as an antidote to such myths.

Nevertheless, there is enough real history to make exaggerated myth unnecessary. As a simple example, I have just been reading a history of the Jewish people by Simon Schama “The Story of the Jews”. One of my colleagues said that Schama is a “bit biased against the Catholic Church” – but reading his book will soon let you know why. Even keeping Stark’s corrective in mind (that Christian persecution of the Jews was neither universal nor continuous throughout history, that it tended to be at times of great social upheaval and where law and order was not properly maintained, that it was never condoned officially by the Church and that in general both Church and Christian state authorities did what they could to curb the violence), the actual documented evidence of the violence of Christian populations against whole Jewish populations makes uncomfortable reading.

I am reading this book currently under the shadow of two experiences: the first is the European atrocities of recent weeks claimed to have been carried out in the name of Islam, and the second is the event from which I have just returned and for which I was personally instrumental in making happen, viz. the overnight two day Winter Conference for the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia (facebook here). We had thirty people, including 10 Jews and 8 Muslims, from various denominations and ethnicities, leaders and lay people, old and young living together for a few days. It was an event which directly asked the question “Why do we do Interreligious dialogue – and what are the rewards and challenges?”.

We were just 30 people – we were not issuing statements or changing the direction of world history. But we at least met together, talked issues through together and got to know one another. That is a start. It is being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. (It bothers me to think that maybe some of the people who are most outspoken about Islam do not actually have any real face to face relationships with Muslim people.)

Like all of you, I am saddened and fearful about what it happening in the world today. I certainly do not have a solution. But I do have a sense about what will help and won’t help. Some people (“the Doves”) think it is “not helpful” to speak about the violence in Europe as “Islamic violence” and want to emphasise that Muslims worship the same God as we do and that Islam is a religion of peace. Others (the “Hawks”) believe that it is absolutely imperative that Western leaders identify the current wave of violence as Islamic, and argue that Islam is a pagan religion which is the natural enemy of Christianity.

Whether you believe the Doves or the Hawks, ask yourself:

1) Is what they are saying true? What is their source for this opinion? Do I want it to be true? And if so why? Could I consider that it might NOT be true?

2) Where will asserting this truth lead? What will be gained by pushing your particular line? Will it ultimately lead to an increase in peace and safety for all people? (Remember Jesus’ rather awkward saying “Blessed are the peacemakers”!)

3) Have I had a conversation with a Muslim person about this, or am I just reading/listening to what non-Muslims are saying?

At the JCMA Conference, some Jews told me that they are still uncomfortable entering a church or seeing a crucifix or hearing the name of Jesus or joining with a gathering of Christians all these bring to mind the history of Christian violence against Jews in the past. They have grown up with this history – they “bear the weight of it” as on Jewish person told me. We Christians, on the other hand, are often entirely ignorant of this history. Christian violence against Jews was carried out because of suspicion and fear, often on the basis that they were “Christ-killers” or even more bizarre accusations, such as that they were poisoning the water or crucifying Christian boys at Easter and mixing their blood with their passover matzah or they were stealing hosts to grind them up for demonic rituals. Yes, there were even Christians who claimed that the God that the Jews worship was a “demon”.

Sound familiar? It was only 50 years ago that the Catholic Church clearly and unambiguously rejected all forms of anti-Judaism and all accusations of responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ. It frightens me the rhetoric used to support violence by Christians against Jews in the past sounds so similar to the kind of rhetoric I am hearing today against the Muslim communities living in our midst.

We Christians also live under “the weight of history”. One of the historical narratives we have inherited is that Islam was “spread by the sword”. I am not going to argue that issue here, but it is true that Christians and Muslims have, in the past, faced each other with the pointy ends of their swords. Now, I do not swallow the story that the Crusades were an instance of unprovoked or even unjustified violence of Christians against Muslims. But it is undeniable that Crusader violence was carried out in the name of Christ and that the victims were not always those who were guilty of reciprocal violence against Christians, or even posed a threat to the Christian community. Many innocent people were caught up in the violence (as of course always happened in such violent times – let us not be naive). These included Eastern Christians, non-combatant Muslims, and Jews. And most frightening of all are the instances where the argument was made “We don’t have to travel to the Holy Land to kill the enemies of Christ -we have them right here in our midst” – leading to the outbreak of violence against the Jewish populations of the Rhineland and other parts of Europe. If medieval Europe had had similar minority communities of Muslims (as is the case today), you can be certain that they too would have been the target of the same violence, even though they had nothing to do with the conflict in the East.

I could write more on this, but by this stage you are either with me or not.

I just want to say, in defense of Pope Francis, that he is saying what he is saying because

1) He is rightly concerned about what repercussion his words might have in those parts of the world where minority communities of Christians and others are live among majority Muslim populations, and

2) He is concerned that non-Muslims in Europe, America and other “Christian” societies such as our own (who do not face anything like the same degree of threat from Islamism), may begin to turn on the law-abiding, upright and God-fearing Muslim minority communities in our midst.

He is concerned because he knows something about history. Christian violence may not be something we are so familiar with today, but it HAS happened before. It IS a part of our Christian story. Let us pray that together we can write a new and better chapter to the story of the relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims in our world today for the sake of the peace and safety of all.

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A Modern Pilgrim reads Belloc’s “Path to Rome”

There are many books which give an account of the experiences of modern pilgrims. Books by pilgrims to Santiago are a dime a dozen, and their quality varies enormously. In addition, there are many accounts available of other walking tours. One I remember reading years ago that made a great impression on me (long before I became a long-distance walker myself) was “Two Degrees West: An English Journey” by Nicholas Crane. This chap walked from the top of mainland Britain to the south, but not along the traditional route from John O’Groat’s to Land’s End; rather he set out to walk along the longitude line of 2 degrees west of Greenwich. For some reason, one thing that caught my imagination was that he ordered a special walking stick that doubled as an umbrella. It strikes me today as a rather quaint idea.

But to get really quaint, one must go right back to the time before the modern craze for pilgrimage. I am not talking about Egeria’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem or even Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury – no, slightly more recent. In 1901, the Anglo-French Catholic author Hilaire Belloc took a vow to walk from his birthplace in Toul, France, to the Eternal City, Rome, Italy. He gives an account of his twenty-six day, 750 mile (1200km) journey in his 1902 book “The Path to Rome” (free download here). His vow included the following incredible (by today’s standards, and perhaps even by those of his own) plans:

‘I will start from the place where I served in arms for my sins; I will walk all the way and take advantage of no wheeled thing; I will sleep rough and cover thirty miles a day, and I will hear Mass every morning; and I will be present at high Mass in St Peter’s on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.’

He admits to breaking all but one of these vows – he did make it to St Peter’s by June 29, 1901 – but he also did keep up that cracking pace of about 30 miles (almost 50kms) a day. That’s Oxfam sort of walking, not just for 48 hours, but for a whole month. Our little pilgrimage saw us walking about 27-32kms a day. My longest day that I have ever walked was the Pilgrimage of Mercy when I walked from Boronia to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne via the bike tracks – a distance of 45kms, and I tell you I don’t think I could have kept that up for a month. Now, on our recent jaunt, we were wearing packs that weighed between 10-12kg – and there is no indication that Belloc took with him anything more than a piece of ham, a loaf of bread and bottle of wine in sack (otherwise relying on whatever he could pay for on the way), but nevertheless it is an herculean feat.

This webpage goes into some of the details of Belloc’s pilgrimage. There the author comments that:

Twenty nine miles a day (more than the marathon in distance) day after day for the best part of a month was a prodigious achievement, even allowing for a certain amount of “cheating.” In the days when students commonly walked between London and Oxford it was Hilaire Belloc’s proud boast that…he held the student record for the fifty six miles from Carfax to Marble Arch in eleven hours thirty minutes. That distance would take the average experienced walker at least two full days. On walking holidays rest days are considered essential and Belloc had none. Furthermore he included a lot of hill and mountain walking where the challenge is vertical rather than horizontal and he had problems with his bad knee, the weather and, at times, in finding his way.

Like I said, this means Belloc’s “path to Rome” was the equivalent of the Oxfam walk over and over and over for four weeks. I am in awe.

There is one thing I don’t quite understand: how did he have time to journal his pilgrimage with all that walking? He tells us he stopped to take sketches (I guess you couldn’t just pull out your iphone and take a snapshot in those days), but mentions nothing about keeping a diary. He writes all this then a year later. Still, I guess some things stick in your mind.

One event from our recent MacKillop-Woods Way pilgrimage that sticks in my mind is the day we walked through the rain from Cowwarr to Maffra, and stopped for lunch at the hamlet of Tinamba, which had boasts one of the best pub restaurants for hundreds of miles around. We arrived absolutely dripping wet, with mud on our boots, and asked for a table. The first question was “Do you have a reservation?”. Sean collected pieces of paper toweling from the bathroom to place on his chair to soak up some of his moisture, and I had left my shoes and rain jacket out on the verandah so was walking around in my wet socks. It was all a bit embarrassing, but when we explained to the diners at the neighbouring tables that we had walked from Melbourne and were on our way to Bairnsdale, suddenly all were interested in our tales.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read in Belloc an account that almost perfectly matched our experience. I reproduce it here for you:

I clambered down the hill to Archettes and saw, almost the first house, a swinging board ‘At the sign of the Trout of the Vosges’, and as it was now evening I turned in there to dine.

Two things I noticed at once when I sat down to meat. First, that the people seated at that inn table were of the middle-class of society, and secondly, that I, though of their rank, was an impediment to their enjoyment. For to sleep in woods, to march some seventy miles, the latter part in a dazzling sun, and to end by sliding down an earthy steep into the road, stamps a man with all that this kind of people least desire to have thrust upon them…

I took great care to pay for my glass of white wine before dinner with a bank-note, and I showed my sketches to my neighbour to make an impression. I also talked of foreign politics, of the countries I had seen, of England especially, with such minute exactitude that their disgust was soon turned to admiration. (Hilaire Belloc. The Path to Rome.)

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Amalgamated Posts of the First Leg

Well, now that we are home, I have been able to upload the final picture galleries for our last few days on the first leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage. Sean and I caught the 7:50am coach from Bairnsdale early on Sunday morning to Sale (a bit disappointing, as the train was being repaired). We arrived in Sale in time to attend the 9:30am mass at St Mary’s Cathedral (led by the dean, Fr Bickley). We explored the Port of Sale area and tried to look for evidence of the original rail station. We had lunch in the theatre cafe (where I had a glass of local Lightfoot & Sons wine), and then got back on the 2:15pm train to Melbourne. The ride home was a curious experience of seeing our pilgrimage in fast rewind!

So now that the photos are all uploaded, here is a list of links in chronological order for you to look back over the whole pilgrimage from Fitzroy to Bairnsdale. I would very much welcome contact from anyone who would like to learn more about the route we took, the accommodation and other logistics, should you wish to follow in our footsteps.

For those who want to know, our original Google Earth measurement for the entire leg was 320km. My GPS measurement came in at 366kms. So Sean and I have decided to call it a round 340kms.

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day One
(Easter Monday, March 28: Fitzroy to Wantirna South)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Two
(Easter Tuesday, March 29: Wantirna South to Emerald)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Three
(Wednesday, March 30: Emerald to Tynong North)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Four
(Thursday, March 31: Tynong North to Drouin)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Five
(Friday, April 1: Drouin to Yarragon)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Six
(Saturday, April 2: Yarragon to Moe)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Seven
(Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3: Moe to Traralgon)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Eight
(Monday, April 4: Traralgon to Cowwarr)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Nine
(Tuesday, April 5: Rest Day in Cowwar)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Ten
(Wednesday, April 6: Cowwarr to Maffra)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Eleven
(Thursday, April 7: Maffra to Munro)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Twelve
(Friday, April 8: Munro to Lindenow)

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Thirteen
(Saturday, April 9: Lindenow to Bairnsdale)

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Endorsement of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage from Bishop Patrick of Sale

I returned to the office this morning to find this waiting in my pigeon hole:

Endorsement by Bishop Patrick of Sale

A very pleasant surprise. Here is a scan of the pilgrim passport with Bishop Patrick’s seal upon it:

Pilgrim Passport with the Seal of Bishop Patrick of Sale

We still have plenty of walking to do in the Sale Diocese before crossing the border into Canberra-Goulburn, so we are very thankful to the Bishop of Sale for this encouragement.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Thirteen (End of 1st leg)

MWW Pilgrimage Day Thirteen (Original route in red, alternative route we took today in blue)

MWW Pilgrimage Day Thirteen (Original route in red, alternative route we took today in blue)

Endings are hard. The end of a pilgrimage is, I think, especially hard. John Cooney said to me the other day that he always found arriving in Santiago a bit of an anticlimax at the end of the Camino. I can understand why many go on to Finisterre after Santiago – they just can’t stop. I guess I could go down to the lake tomorrow morning and throw my sandals in…

Actually, we still have a bit of a journey to go. When we arrived in Bairnsdale this afternoon there was a wedding just finishing at St Mary’s, so we didn’t want to bust into the party. Instead we went down to the station (it closes on Saturday at the odd time of 16:40, and we arrived at 16:10) and bought our tickets for the train journey back home tomorrow. I am rather looking forward to this, to travelling back along the path we walked in reverse. We followed the train line for much of the way here. It really is the lifeline of Gippsland. There is an odd symbiotic relationship between walking trails and trains too. When we were not actually following the line, we were often walking on trails that used to be railways. On the first day we walked along the Waverley line, then along the Ringwood-Belgrave rail trail, then along the Puffing Billy line for a few days, before meeting up with the Sale/Bairnsdale line at Garfield and practically following it to Moe. Then there was the Yallourn Rail Trail, and from Traralgon the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail before we met up again with the Bairnsdale line at Stratford and virtually followed that through to here. When we start up our pilgrimage again, we will be on another rail trail for three days to Orbost.

But for the moment, this is the end of the line. Fitting then that we had our final meal at the Grand Terminus Hotel near the station. A very good meal of lamb cutlets. Reasonable price – in fact I thought it was very cheap when I paid the bill. As we were walking away, I realised the problem – our drinks had not been added to the tab. Sean thought I should take the attitude “the Camino provides”, but I went back and paid for them. I didn’t want to end the pilgrimage feeling guilty. As Arthur Dent said, I would be “all cross and wouldn’t enjoy it”.

We are staying tonight at the Presbytery at St Mary’s in Bairnsdale. I had arranged this with Fr Peter Bickley, a long time acquaintance like John Cooney through the Sale Diocesan Ecumenical Affairs Commission. Peter has been chairperson for as long as I have worked for the Archdiocese. When we began planning our pilgrimage, Peter was parish priest here, but he was shifted at the end of last year to become the dean and parish priest of the Cathedral in Sale. Thankfully, his successor in Bairnsdale was also an acquaintance – Fr Michael Willemsen. Fr Michael kindly honoured Fr Peter’s offer of accommodation. As it turned out, when we arrived, Fr Michael had already left for the overnight stay in Omeo where he is saying mass this weekend and won’t be back till tomorrow afternoon. However, Fr Peter was back in town as the celebrant of the wedding we saw this afternoon as we arrived. He was watching the Adelaide vs Richmond match on television in the lounge room when we arrived and were shown to our rooms by Fr Siju, one of the assistant priests of the parish. We had half an hour or so to catch up and talk about the pilgrimage and other news before Fr Peter needed to leave for the wedding reception. Before he did, he kindly granted us a pilgrims’ blessing.

Earlier, on our way back from buying our tickets at the train station, Sean and I had gone into St Mary’s to sing the Regina Caeli at the Lady Chapel, to pray the commemoration of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and to give thanks to God for the safe conclusion of this, our first leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way pilgrimage to St Mary’s shrine in Sydney. St Mary’s is a very suitable place to end this first leg of our pilgrimage; in fact, it would be a suitable place to which to make a pilgrimage full stop. It isn’t an official shrine or anything, but the building itself is something of a tourist Mecca thanks to the work of an itinerant artist many years ago. It is sometimes called the Gippsland Sistine Chapel and you can see the source of the inspiration. It isn’t Michelangelo, but it is impressive. The Church is currently undergoing extensive renovations at a great cost. The building is aging in all departments, from its floor to its walls to its ceiling and the frescoes themselves.

From the beauty of the man-made sanctuary, let us turn to the beauty of the sanctuary not made by human hands, namely God’s own creation through which Sean and I walked today. Last night at the Lindenow Pub, Sal advised us that the better road to walk to Bairnsdale would be on the north side of the Mitchell River Valley rather than on the main road into town. Despite it being hillier and slightly longer by a couple of kilometres, we decided to take her advice and are glad we did on every level. The full distance of the new route was 21kms by Google Maps, but 23.8 by the GPS. Our planned route was to be only 17kms.

We left Lindenow rather later than usual because today would be a shorter day. Sean went off in search of a coffee as is his want, and surprisingly he found a city-style cafe that had just closed down the day before. The gay couple who ran the cafe had sold the business and were “taking a gap year”. Despite no longer being open for business, Sean managed to talk his way in and to get two takeaway cups of coffee out of them, one for him and one for me – the last coffees they were to make in their cafe. Despite the closure of their business, they had actually sold it to new owners, so the chances are that future pilgrims may be able to get their dose of caffeine there still.

We left Altar Ego after a good breakfast – I had made a couple of sandwiches out of the toast bread to take along today as there were no towns between here and Bairnsdale. We went via St Claire’s Church where we sang the Regina Caeli and prayed the Commemoration of St Mary as well as a collect from the Itinerarium for pilgrims. There were bees buzzing in the blossoming gum trees in the yard of the church, and in the other trees on the road out of town.

We very soon found that the main road on which we had planned to walk (the C601 Bairnsdale – Dargo Road) was very busy indeed and quite unpleasant to walk on. So we were glad to turn off on our revised route onto Windmill Road which became Settlement Road towards the end. This straight piece of sealed road is largely a connecting point for the vegetable farms and so carries farm machinery, tractors, utes and trucks, but not in high volume. It was relatively quiet. We walked past alternating fields of dairy cattle and vegetable plots (I recognised potatoes, corn and carrots).

About four kilometres out of Lindenow, you reach a cross roads in which Settlement road takes a left hand turn to the north towards and across the river (the other two roads are Thatchers Road leading south and Soldiers Road continuing East). The Mitchell is crossed via a one lane bridge, and then Settlement Road climbs up the northern embankment of the Mitchell River valley. Two kilometres after the cross roads, you take a right hand turn to the East into the Wy Yung – Calulu Road, which takes you all the way along the northern ridge for about 11kms through Ellaswood to the C603 Bullamwaal Road at Wy Yung. You then take the Bullamwaal Road south into Bairnsdale.

This was an extraordinarily beautiful route, which transformed what would have been merely the last final section to our destination into a hike worthy in itself of venturing out on such a sunny day. Again, the road was not very busy. It seems to be a favourite with motorcyclists leisurely taking in the scenery and young fellows in four-wheel drives going very fast to wherever it was they had to be. But most of the time it was quiet and peaceful. The scenery was astounding, whether looking north to the mountains (it appears that this side of the valley was in the foothills), or looking south over the valley. By Jensons Road, which we went down a short way, it was possible to see the tower of St Mary’s in the far distance, and the lakes on which Bairnsdale is situated.

We stopped for our lunch on top of a hill in Ellaswood, just outside a farmhouse in the shade of some pine trees. We had climbed up onto the verge of the road to get a view of the valley. Before long, the lady of the house came out to see where the voices she could hear were coming from. When we told her that we were walking, she offered to get us both a cup of tea, an offer we gladly accepted. When she returned with two mugs, we introduced ourselves properly and explained what we were doing. Gwen and her husband run beef cattle on their farm over looking the valley, right next to a vineyard that stretches out over the bluff (nb. Added footnote from Sunday – I’ve just had a glass of Lightfoot & Sons Chardonnay in a cafe in Sale – and it turns out they are Gwen’s neighbours – we should have Calle in and got a bottle or two – it’s good stuff). She also filled Sean’s water bottle for him. It is kindness like this that is a gift when you are on pilgrimage.

When we arrived at the intersection of the Wy Yung – Calulu Road and the Bullamwaal Road, I rang Fr Michael to say that we would be about another hour before we arrived and where we were. He asked if we were ringing from the Wy Yung Pub. “There’s a pub?”, I asked, my attention immediately engaged. “Yes, a very good one, make sure you drop in”, he replied. I added that this would probably mean a slightly later arrival, and we set off again with renewed energy in search of this watering hole. Not far down the road, there it was, perched on the edge of the bank looking out into the valley. This was a welcome sight! Inside we found half a dozen friendly locals and a young fellow behind the bar who cheerily pulled us a couple of pints of James Squire’s pale ale. There were two large television screens above the bar – one playing the Adelaide vs Richmond game and the other playing the St Kilda vs Collingwood game. He had an unusual foreign accent, which I mistakenly thought was Irish. We asked him how long he had been working here, and it turns out that he was the publican. He – Anthony – and his young wife Jacquie bought the pub some years back and have made a real go of it. Anthony is in fact French, and was born in Paris. Jacquie on the other other hand is from Lakes Entrance, a niece of a well known priest in the diocese who died only recently, Fr John Allan.

We rolled out of the Wy Yung pub and hit the road for the last few kilometres of our pilgrimage. I think in the end we picked the best way to enter into Bairnsdale. The road led down into the valley and over the Mitchell River, and then immediately to the left of the road, the path went along the riverfront. This was a leafy green and shaded entry into town. When we came up onto the street, we were in just the right place to enter Pyke Street and head toward the Church and Train Station.

The rest of the story has already been told. It is now almost 11pm and we plan to leave by 7am in the morning.

I wondered if I would get emotional toward the end of the journey. Perhaps if there had been some really good hymns and singing at the vigil mass tonight I might have got a bit teary, but the mass was said without any music at all. Still, as we said the prayers together and wished one another the peace of Christ, there was a deep feeling of thanksgiving in my heart for all who made the journey possible.

I am thankful to all our benefactors along the way. Those who billetted us: the Focolare Community in Wantirna South, Deacon Mark Kelly, the parishioners at St Joseph’s in Emerald, Fr Bernard Buckley in Traralgon, Fr Harry Dyer in Moe, John and Judy Cooney in Cowwarr, and Fr Michael here in Bairnsdale. I am thankful to all the establishments who gave us food and shelter: Peppermint Ridge farm, Yarragon Motel, Macalister Hotel, Altar Ego Church Stay, and countless pubs, cafes and bakeries along the way.

I want to thank all friends and family who contributed financial support to this venture. It is never cheap to go on a two week journey, even if your mode of transportation is on foot! Your support has made it possible.

Above all I want to thank my pilgrim companions, Sean and Josh. I started off planning to do this journey on my own, marking my 50 years of life and the Josephites’ 150th anniversary of their founding. But it was so much more special doing it with companions who shared the experience and will share the memories. By God’s grace we will reunite to continue this pilgrimage in the future.

And finally I want to thank my family, Cathy and Mad and Mia, who have given me leave to walk out the front door and go wandering. It was Cathy’s encouragement that first confirmed in me the intention to do the Aussie Camino two years ago, an intention which is now flowering into something completely new.

I admitted to Sean today as we crossed the Mitchell River and climbed up the hill on the other side that I am a hopeless romantic. I long to fill my life with adventure and heroism – but there is precious little opportunity for that in today’s world. As we return to daily life, the truth that we must face is that the very mundane life we lead travelling from day to day is in fact, if approached in the right spirit, an adventure, and the constancy of a pilgrim – who will not be frightened off by “hobgoblin nor foul fiend” – is required in every moment of our Christian life in community with others.

I will close this long final post with the words of a Lisa Mitchell song I heard just the other day:

Not all who wander are lost.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016: Day Twelve

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Twelve

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Twelve

Today we farewelled Cowwarr for good, as John Cooney drove us back to Munro for our second to last day of walking on this first leg of our pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. I left a donation for the continued upkeep of the Parish House in Cowwarr and any future pilgrims along this route are encouraged to do the same. The future of the house is not certain; and at present it is a perfect stopover place for travellers looking for a place of spiritual significance and natural beauty to stay a night or two.

John dropped us at the very spot that we were picked up, and we set out walking along Sinclairs Road, a good gravel road/track that runs right along the railway line from Munro to the next old siding town, Fernbank. The trail is only used by local farmers to access their properties, so we only met two vehicles on the whole way. Like our walk along Freemans Lane yesterday, it was silent and peaceful, with nice bush land around us and farmland to the sides.

Arriving in Fernbank we met a local woman, Jill, who pointed out to us that we could continue along the railway from Fernbank along Pearce Street which eventually connected with the Fernbank-Lindenow Road. I met another local, Paul, with whom we talked about walking as he was going on a three day walking trip with his son in the near future. then we had a look around town. The Catholic Church, one of the most prominent buildings in the hamulet, has been converted into a very nice home, and the Uniting Church (St Margaret’s) had only just recently been sold and was being converted into a holiday home. We sat and ate our picnic lunch on the steps of the Hall. The hall had a bit of a verandah on it, which you could camp under at a pinch, but there are no public toilets. Water is only available from the rainwater tank down by the CFA shed.

Leaving town by Pearce Street, we were again in quiet bushland until the track met up with the sealed bitumen road to Lindenow South. This was not at all a busy road, and had a good verge on it even when traffic came along, so was pleasant walking. There is no track on this section along the railway, and you have to follow it all the way into Lindenow South. The plains gave way to low hills along this stretch.

Entering Lindenow South you come first to the Football and Tennis grounds. There are ample spots here for a camper to find shelter without a tent and very good public toilets. It also has a little general store, which Sean tells me was well stocked with cold drinks but little else. The local cemetery is also on the road north of town, and so I popped in there for a look and a prayer for the holy souls.

But we were pushing on to Lindenow (pronounced -oh rather than -ow) proper which was still four kilometres away. There are a couple of ways of getting there after you cross the railway line. I took the direct root on the main road. After crossing several hills you come down into the broad valley of the Mitchell River that appears to be used for vegetable farming. Lindenow is built upon the souther bank of this valley, and affords some quite dramatic views. The road leads down into the valley, and then you have to climb back up again into the main street.

I was really exhausted by this point and was glad to have made it into the post office / general store by 4:40pm to get a stamp in my pilgrim passport. Sean was some way behind me, so I went around to our accomodation which is just across the main road in Ross Stweet. Altar Ego Church Stay is a new B&B run by David and Robyn, converted from the old Anglican Church (currently the Uniting Church and Anglicn Church share the brick church across the road). It has two rooms available, both set up for couples rather than groups of travellers, although there is an adjoining door if you wanted to hire the whole place. Sean and I had booked the “Queen Room” at the back for $140 a night with a $10 extra charge per person for breakfast provisions (cereal, bread, jam, vegemite, fresh fruit, milk, yoghurt). It is a one room layout, with bed, shower, toilet, table and sink area all in the one space. Very contemporary in design and aimed at comfort. We missed a microwave oven, which might be useful for some travellers (I like to heat up my cup of tea when it has gone cold), and we took turns going outside when the other was using the bathroom (really, I don’t think that even if Cathy and I were going to stay here together we would want to be on display when going to the toilet!). Still, much more comfortable than sharing a tent!

When Sean arrived, we cleaned up and showered and shaved before going over to the local Lindenow Pub for dinner. This is a really nice place, with very friendly staff. The proprietors are Shane and Sal (? – I think I got those names right). Those staying at the Altar Ego get 10% off food and drinks. The pub values its heritage and has a underlying Irish theme. There is Guinness on tap (we each had two pints), and the food is excellent and moderately priced. I had leek soup and beef and Guinness (natch) pie with mash for $30 all up. While we were waiting for our dinner, Sal showed us around the dinning rooms pointing out the pictures on the wall showing the heritage of Lindenow and of the pub, and some original artworks of the local scenery. I very strongly advise future pilgrims to put this establishment on their itinerary. Unfortunately the Pub isn’t set up for accomodation.

Today was another good day for praying along the way, quite and peaceful. I am feeling totally relaxed, although with the end of this leg of the pilgrimage in sight I am wondering how long this feeling of well being will last when I return to the real world where the daily pilgrimage is to work and back. Pope Francis’ Post Synodal Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, on the Joy of Marriage and Family Life, came out tonight. In it, he describes marriage and family life itself as a journey, a Camino, a pilgrimage. I am wondering if there is a way I can approach my daily life in the same way that I am approaching this pilgrimage. Yes, there are a thousand little things to plan along the way, but you keep your eyes on the eventual destination, and realise that wherever you are in terms of the present problems you are passing on to other things. At the same time there is the need to appreciate the present moment, to look at the scenery, to feel the ground beneath your feet. In terms of marriage and family relationships, that is the valuing of every moment. And again, on this pilgrimage, I have had to live at close (sometimes like tonight very close) quarters with my pilgrim partners Sean and Josh. You can’t walk together if you are at each other’s throats all the time. You have to constantly show your better virtues to one another rather than give vent to your weaker side (as Pope Francis says of marriage in his letter). So I think there is plenty of food for thought along these lines as I return to the so-called “real world” on Sunday.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

MWW Pilgrimage: Day Eleven

I am a day behind in my write-ups of the pilgrimage – I was so tired last night (Thursday night) that I went straight to bed at 8:30pm and Sean had to wake me at 6:30am this morning.

So – travelogue first then “inner stuff”.

We were staying at the Macalister Hotel in Maffra on Wednesday night. The rooms are cheap – $40 each, including basic breakfast of cereals and toast – but the food in the dining room is expensive and nothing to write home about (steaks at around $35, cheapest dish was flake and chips at $20). The really nice thing was the lounge area, which had a gas heater for us to dry out our clothes by, and was a comfortable place to have a cup of tea and write up my blog. When I went to bed, I had blaring Sports TV going in the outdoor area of the pub outside my window, but I didn’t really notice it once I put my earplugs in. I must have fallen asleep almost immediately.

We woke to sunshine and clear skies. Maffra is an interesting town with a lot to check out. We found the Catholic Church, a large red brick construction with an imposing double story presbytery on the side and a bell tower on the lawn in between. We knocked on the door of the presbytery, but Fr Darren wasn’t answering. We found out later that all the priests of the Diocese of Sale are on retreat this week. Maffra has many historic buildings that are worth checking out, and Sean was keen to get his morning cup of “really good coffee”. After coffee, we checked out the sugar beet museum (open on the first Sunday of each month between 10 and 2pm, so you have to be lucky). Heading down the Main Street, we came to the Maffra Motor Inn (aka the Motel), where Fr Ken of the Anglican Ordinariate and his wife Carmel are the proprietors. Ken was very happy to talk about our pilgrimage and to learn more about it. He had heard what we were doing, as he had been out at Cowwarr to celebrate the Annunciation Mass on Monday and again there only the previous morning for Weekday mass at 10am – unfortunately we missed him both times, but John Cooney told him about his guests. The Motor Inn would be a good alternative place to stay for any pilgrims coming through. Before we left, Fr Ken gave us his blessing – a very good way to set off.

We soon got back onto the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, and the last leg took us through to Stratfort on the river Avon. The area we were walking through was largely cattle and irrigation land. I was staggered at one piece of irrigation machinery which, rather than usual 5 sections of sprinklers, had as many as 14 all in one piece. Eventually, just outside Stratford, we arrived at the point where the Rail Trail met the current working railway. At one time in the past, both railways were operating, and you can still see where they once joined.

Stratford is a really pretty little town, and the river on which it is situated is also very beautiful. I was surprised to find a large store selling Turkish ceremics, carpets and other paraphernalia – it felt like being back in Istanbul. We went around to look at the Catholic Church, and back to the bakery for lunch. There was an Historical Car club from Bairnsdale having their monthly morning tea run in town, which provided additional interest. We fell to talking with a woman at the bakery from Sale – Anne – who claimed to have been cured of cancer by St Mary MacKillop. We popped into the post office for a stamp on our pilgrim passports, and then headed out of town.

Not on the main highway though! Our route took us north on the Briagolong Road (C494), and then branching off onto the Stockdale Road. The Stockdale Road is very quiet, but there are still a few vehicles. If you like, there are horse trails on both sides of the road that you can walk on. Sean preferred this, but I was a little wary of snakes, and just walking in sandals and socks did not afford me much protection, so I walked on the road. When we arrived at the turn off to Freemans Lane (the next part of our route), I sat down to rest at a bus shelter and wait for Sean to catch up. It was then that I became aware that, perhaps for the very first time on our entire pilgrimage, we were in a spot where there was absolutely no vehicles or engines to be heard of any kind. It was completely silent except for crickets and birds.

The roads from Stratford had thus far been sealed bitumen roads, but now we turned onto a narrow gravel side road called Freemans Lane. This was absolutely idyllic. After wandering through farmland for a bit, we came down the hill into a forested area – some hardwood plantation and some natural bush reserve. I think this would have to have been one of the most peaceful sections of the whole pilgrimage. Not wanting to pass up a prayerful mood, I got my rosary out and prayed a round of the glorious mysteries for all my intentions on the journey.

The silence was broken by a kid on a trail bike just at the end of the reserve as we made our way into Munro. Munro was a “problem spot” for us in planning the Pilgrimage as there was no accomodation there and we could not locate a Catholic household to put us up for the night. John Cooney had graciously offered to meet us there and take us back to Cowwarr for the night. So, as planned, he was waiting for us outside the little Anglican Church when we arrived. We wanted to explore the hamlet a little more before heading off, and try to meet some locals. I spied a couple getting into their ute and trailor across from the Church on the north side of the Munro Hall, and went over to introduce myself to them.

They were the right people to speak to. David and Maureen are on the Hall committee and they said that they rent it out for $50 a night for functions. Sometimes cyclists come and camp on the hall grounds, where there is a sheltered barbecue area, toilets and fresh water in the rain water tank. I asked about pilgrims using the hall itself to camp in. At first they were a little hesitant – “How many people are we talking about?” – when I answered “No more than two or three at a time”, they said that that would be no problem at all. I have their details and gave them mine and will get in touch with them again once we get back to Melbourne to confirm any future plans. At the very least, Josh will be wanting some accomodation when he comes through later this year.

So John drove us back to Cowwarr. Sean and I had invited John and Judy out to dinner at the pub as a thank you for their generosity, but John had a pervious engagement leading a Men Alive scripture study group in the parish hall, and he felt obligated to that commitment. So Sean and I went around and met the Polish publican at the Cowwarr pub and ordered Osso Bucco for dinner. It was about $33 for a main serve, but it was a filling and delicious meal, with garlic bread and chips as sides.

Going back to the Parish House, I called into the Hall where the bible study was taking place. The men were just saying their closing prayers when I arrived. However, John introduced me and asked me, as they said to St Paul, “Have you any words of encouragement for us?” I did encourage them, and said how important it is a) for Catholic men to meet together and support one another and b) how good it was that they were reading and studying scripture together.

Then back to my room to bed and sleep came at once.

Now a little bit of inner stuff. As I mentioned, the silence in the post-Stratford section today was absolutely astounding. It struck right to my core and put me in a very prayerful frame of mind. I was happy to switch off my music and just let the silence sink in. All I could hear was the crunching of my feet on the gravel. Because the track was so isolated (and I was walking several hundred metres ahead of Sean) there was a real sense of being alone in the presence of the Creator.

I won’t write any more now – Sean is trying to sleep and since our present accommodation is one open plan room I need to put out the light.

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