Video News: Bishop Anthony’s Address at the Aussie Gathering in Rio 2013
Address of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Welcome to the Australian Gathering, ‘Vivio Rio’ Centre, Rio de Janiero, 24 July 2013
Welcome everyone. I know what a great effort it required for you to get to World Youth Day in Rio. Most of you have already been on pilgrimage for more than a week, engaging in mission work both confronting and moving. There have been some real challenges: you got a bit of a soaking at the Opening Mass last night; as well as rain we've had fog, late flights, cancelled flights, marooned pilgrims, at least one case of spider bite and other challenges.
Let me share one I experienced. Some of you will know that I am not always punctual: well, on Monday I was on the funicular railway on the way down the Corcovado mountain from the Cristo Redentor statue. The train stopped suddenly and the driver got out: there was a giant sloth on the tracks, stretched out like a sun-baking chimpanzee. The train driver took quite a while to persuade the sloth to move. Now that's the best excuse I've ever had for being late!
So we've had our challenges. But we got here and it is very good to be together. We give thanks for your families, parishes, schools, national and local teams who helped get us here; for Harvest Pilgrimages our tour operator, our chaplains and leaders who are looking after us while we’re here.
I welcome especially today the bishops of Australia and thank them with our priests for their deep commitment to young people. They know you young people are not just 'the future of the Church' but an important part of the present-day Church, already disciples, evangelisers, organisers and helpers and that is why our bishops, clergy and religious are so dedicated to you.
This is the 28th World Youth Day but only the third under the Southern Cross. The first one celebrated outside Rome was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1987. This WYD2013 in Rio is the third in the Southern Hemisphere. Last week we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the only other one under the Southern Cross, held in 2008 in Sydney.
When the Incas here in South America looked up at the Southern Cross they saw a kite. In India people saw a man suspended in the heavens as a punishment for trying to be a god. In Indonesia they saw a stingray. In Tonga, a duck. The Māori called it ‘Te Punga’, the anchor for the Milky Way. Australian Aborigines saw a giant emu or a possum sitting in a tree.
Like so often in life, it’s only with the eyes of faith that people realise what’s staring them in the face. Our soon-to-be saint and founder of WYD, Pope John Paul II, said, “As the peoples of Oceania came to accept the fullness of redemption in Christ, they found a striking symbol in the night skies, where the Southern Cross stands as a luminous sign of God’s overarching grace and blessing.” (Ecclesia in Oceania 13) So while Christianity came from the north the people of the south already lived beneath the cross, a luminous sign of grace awaiting the eyes of faith. This third WYD ‘down under’ shows the Church is still making its way to all nations, as Christ directed.
This past year we’ve celebrated a Year of Grace in Australia and the Church universal is in a Year of Faith. The meaning of faith is obvious enough but grace, for most Catholics, is a bit of a head-scratcher. We kind of know what it means … a sort of God-gift, Spirit-energy, Heaven-power … what? The Fathers of Vatican II explained that God is present to people such as the Australian Aborigines even before they have Christian faith, ‘giving all men life and breath’, moving them to seek God, revealing Himself to them ‘in shadows and images’ and propelling them to fulfil His will. But when evangelisers “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) grace flowers into Christian faith, people are “justified in the Lord Jesus … become sons [and daughters] of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by divine grace, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received.”
So a WYD week of grace or a national year of receiving grace and responding in faith isn’t enough! A whole lifetime is needed, so we keep “following in Christ’s footsteps … conforming [ourselves] to His image ... devoting [ourselves] to the glory of God and the service of [our] neighbours.” (Gaudium et spes 40) That’s what WYD is for: to make you lifelong GMDs, go-make-disciples sort of people! As Blessed John Paul said to the people of our region: “The present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelisation among the peoples of Oceania, a fresh proclamation of the enduring truth evoked by the symbol of the Southern Cross. This call to mission poses great challenges, but it also opens new horizons, full of hope and even a sense of adventure.” (Ecclesia in Oceania 13) If the GMD generation, 1800 go-make-disciplers return from Rio living the holiness they have received and sharing it with others under the Southern Cross, what a different, better place Australia will be. By God’s grace you can do it! I am confident you will!
Read all the latest blog posts from Parramatta's pilgrims at parrawyd.org
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