Catholic Youth Parramatta

Bishop Anthony Fisher’s Rome Blog: 16 Oct


Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.

The Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, blogs live from Rome.

Rome, 16 October 2010

Today I went first to the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica to pray at the tombs of St Peter and John Paul the Great for the young people of my Diocese. It was a thrill to see a lovely picture of Mary MacKillop on the facade of the basilica.

It took me an hour of queuing to get to the tombs and that was a short-cut. (I queue-jumped by joining a group of Aussie pilgrims who had already been in line for some time.) The larger-than-usual number of pilgrims in town because of the canonisation has made for even longer queues than normal.

It wasn’t hard to find a group of Aussies. They are everywhere here in Rome and fairly easily identified! Perhaps the leading English-speaking commentator on Vatican affairs is John Allen, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. In his blog he says that “Mary MacKillop’s popularity ... is certainly reflected in the streets of Rome this week; sometimes it feels like every Australian Catholic alive is here.” (

I suspect that’s partly because we’re a bit rowdier than average: one Aussie counts for several more sedate pilgrims from other places.

Apart from rowdy but devout Aussie pilgrims, I also met a group of young Aborigines in St Peter’s Square (most of them had never been overseas and were clearly loving it) and various Josephite sisters identified by their blue (‘teal’, stupid) pilgrim scarves. They are tired but very excited. I had cappuccino with two of them, and my Executive Director of Schools, Greg Whitby, on our way to a meeting at the Vatican.

It’s been raining a bit and so some people are nervous about what it will like on Sunday for the outdoor canonisation Mass. The Romans have a saying: ‘A wet bride is a fortunate bride’. As Mary Mac rode on horseback in the dust and heat of our drought-stricken continent, she must often have prayed for rain, so I guess she won’t mind too much if that’s what happens.

Blessed Mary MacKillop
Blessed Mary MacKillop.

The BBC report on the lead-up to the canonisation includes some great footage about her life and the excitement building in Penola and North Sydney. But then came the myth about her being excommunicated for reporting child abuse. John Allen, in the blog I noted above, says: “Recent reports in Australia have suggested that the ‘insubordination’ triggering her excommunication was related to her order’s determination to uncover a case of sexual abuse by a priest. According to that reconstruction, allies of the priest schemed to have MacKillop excommunicated in revenge for exposing the abuser.

“On the strength of that account, American Jesuit Fr James Martin SJ proposed that MacKillop be regarded as a ‘patron saint’ of victims of sexual abuse. Alas, the universally acknowledged authority on MacKillop’s life, Australian Jesuit Fr Paul Gardiner SJ, says it ain’t so. Gardiner says that while members of the order did indeed report the priest’s abuse, MacKillop herself was out of town at the time and had nothing to do with it. Gardiner said dragging MacKillop into the story represents a ‘nasty swipe’ at the Catholic church, a way of reviving public attention to the crisis on the back of MacKillop’s popularity in Australia.”

Last night I met Fr Gardiner at the celebration at the Vatican Museum. He was one of my teachers when I was about 16 (I remember he gave us a really good course on St Thomas Aquinas’ five ‘proofs’ of the existence of God.) He is justly very proud of what is coming, after spending decades working for her cause.

Tonight I attended the official Vigil for the canonisation. Mary’s successor as chief Josephite, Sr Anne Derwin RSJ spoke, as did Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (representing the Prime Minister). Both did very well. But the stars of the evening were the massed Josephite sisters who, inspired by Mary MacKillop, have given their lives to the service of God and His people.

They received several ovations. Their co-stars were the young actors who told Mary MacKillop’s story in her own words, with some beautiful singing, clever use of filmed interviews and projected photos, live Aboriginal dancing, a double-act of didgeridoo and bagpipes (for our Scottish-Australian hero) and many other elements. It was creative and, I think, very successful.

Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, then led the liturgical element that included some hymns, Gospel readings and a sung litany of Mary MacKillop. Most of Australia’s bishops took part, as well as the sisters and thousands of priests and laity. The Vigil had to be celebrated twice to accommodate the numbers who wanted to take part.

It was a great way of getting in the mood for tomorrow. The atmosphere here now is electric. And there’s a huge image of an Australian on the face of St Peter’s. Incredible!

« Return to news list