Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lazarus at Our Gate

The parables of Jesus are universal stories that challenge human prejudice, injustice and the abuse of power.The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus has been a popular theme for artists musicians and of course homilists.

This year the Australian Catholic Bishops have chosen this parable as the  focus for the 2013 Social Justice Statement, Lazarus at Our Gate.

It may be too easy for observers and the disillusioned  to dismiss this statement in the light of the horrifying revelations about sexual abuse and the failure of Church leadership to act for the protection of children and the vulnerable.It would be irresponsible for Australian Catholic clergy to ignore the message and challenge this statement offers to the cult of clericalism and its failure to witness to a "preferential option for f the poor".

We who claim Catholicism as our faith do so across a colourful spectrum of commitment.And in Australia we carry on a long tradition of social engagement that challenges political and religious abuse which sits uncomfortably in the pages of our history. The Australian Catholic Bishops have issued 65 of these statements since 1940.

As the new Abbott Government begins its Parliamentary term I hope each member of the Cabinet as well as all elected members of the House and the Senate will read this document and respond to its final challenging question, "Who is at Our Gate?

I have collected a series of resources and references that I hope will add to your reflection and  action in response to this year's Social Justice Statement.


The ACSJC website - - has resources available for download free of charge  They include Social Justice Sunday Liturgy Notes, a PowerPoint presentation and resources for schools and social justice groups.

Lazarus at our Gate A Reflection from the Columbans

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Song for Greg Reynolds

Excommunication is one of those dream words in Scrabble that can land you a winning margin. However, outside the scrabble board it can land a recipient on the losing side of their religious community. Christian leaders  have been busily excommunicating since Paul started the trend.

Thanks to Wikipedia we have a comprehensive list of those who fell off the scrabble board from the first Century. The list is inclusive for the first few centuries but the post Constantinians are Roman Catholics. It is worth noting that the 4th and 8th century were pretty quiet with only one name for each.

With the rise of new communication technologies, Television and  the internet the 20th Century became a boom time with 13 listings of excommunication. Some of these were group bookings so the number is quite inflated. The list includes a few who either recanted or had their excommunication lifted.

We are only 13 years into the 21st Century and heading for a Guiness breaking record as there are twelve listings and  87 more years of Temple Policing to go. Despite Catholic demographics  Australia manages to stand out in the listings with Saint Mary MacKillop appearing for a brief excommunication in the 19th century and most recently Fr Greg Reynolds, the newest recipient of the  letter from Rome.

Greg Reynolds expressed his "shock" at the Vatican decision.However as with so many other  middle aged, middle class,middle of the road Catholics he forgot to use the Duck test. Bottom line question: "Is the Pope  Catholic"?  Yes,Greg Popes excommunicate, as do most institutional leaders and groups from time to time.I don't quite know why there is so much angst about the excommunication as the movement Greg has founded makes it quite clear they don't want to be associated with the Church's' forms of governance"

And, yes for those who are wondering I  have been through the MAMCMOTR journey in Catholicism. It\s an interesting but somewhat unworkable acronym like its membership.

Media, blogs and  everyone with an opinion  suddenly know Greg Reynolds,a decent and passionate  bloke  who I remember from my days at Corpus Christi in Melbourne.

No doubt Greg and  those who will follow him will take some inspiration from Pete Seeger's classic rendition of the old rebel song,

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Our Thoughts Are Free) 


Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Faith Response to Military Intervention in Syria

For Christians the city of Damascus sits in our collective memory as a watershed moment of conversion and commitment to non-violence.The story of the conversion of Paul was not just a religious experience. It was a political commitment to stand against the power of Empire and walk in the steps of Jesus the peacemaker.

These news items are published here to give voice to the tradition of peacemaking and nonviolence which should call us to Damascus in these days

AMRIS is part of ISTEAMS, the International Support Team for the Mussalaha (reconciliation) initiative in Syria.  
It brings together Australians from different faiths and allegiances. 
AMRIS is working to promote the 10 Points Towards Reconciliation and Peace described by Mother Agnes Mariam, the Carmelite nun from Homs, on her visit to Australia in October 2012.

.Huff Post Religion Just War Doctrine and Syria Even as the world’s powers grasped for a last-minute resolution to the crisis in Syria, it remained an open question whether any amount of diplomacy could prevent the conflict from claiming at least one more victim: the classic Christian teaching known as the “just war” tradition.

Pope Calls for Day of Prayer and fasting on September 7 May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Take Action Now Contact your two U.S. Senators and your Representative and urge them to vote against a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. Instead, ask them to support U.S. leadership, in collaboration with the international community, for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and serious, inclusive negotiations for peace.

Catholic Patriarch Gregiore III Enough With The Intervention

"Instead of trying to change the (Syrian) government, help the government to change. We are all for change. We are all for reforms. But not in this way, with blood."

The patriarch said external intervention "is destroying the whole sense of community, of friendship of love between peoples, of conviviality, of living together, Christians and Muslims." 

A letter from Trappist nuns in Syria: “Blood fills our streets, our eyes, our hearts” We look at the people around us, our day workers who are all here as if suspended, stunned: “They’ve decided to attack us.” Today we went to Tartous…we felt the anger, the helplessness, the inability to formulate a sense to all this: the people trying their best to work and to live normally. You see the farmers watering their land, parents buying notebooks for the schools that are about to begin, unknowing children asking for a toy or an ice cream…you see the poor, so many of them, trying to scrape together a few coins. The streets are full of the “inner” refugees of Syria, who have come from all over to the only area left that is still relatively liveable…. You see the beauty of these hills, the smile on people’s faces, the good-natured gaze of a boy who is about to join the army and gives us the two or three peanuts he has in his pocket as a token of “togetherness”…. And then you remember that they have decided to bomb us tomorrow. … Just like that. Because “it’s time to do something,” as it is worded in the statements of the important men, who will be sipping their tea tomorrow as they watch TV to see how effective their humanitarian intervention will be….

Sojourners Keep Doomsday Religion Out of the Syrian Conflict

Ask the Judeo-Christian world: have they forgotten Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comment about erasing Israel from the face of the Earth? Ask the Muslim world: have they forgotten George W. Bush’s post 9/11 declaration of the war on terror being a “crusade.” Who’s to say that political decisions are immune from such eschatological yearnings? As the war engulfs Damascus, one wonders if our actions or inactions are partly motivated by religious beliefs.

Pope Francis and King of Jordan  Negotiation is the Only Option for Syria
Archbishop Maroun Lahham, patriarchal vicar for Jordan in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Vatican Radio the meeting of Pope Francis and King Abdullah was an opportunity for both of them to discuss ways to encourage peace in Syria “in the midst of all these threats we are hearing. With what is happening, Jordan – although it is a small country – can play an important role for peace in Syria”.

NCR Editorial: Military intervention in Syria won't solve anything

Our experience tells us that the last two decades of war have extracted a great price at home with so little to show for it. And the loss has not been just in lives and treasury, though those losses are staggering, but also in our understanding of who we are and what moral imperatives drive our decisions. In this case, the real strength may be in resisting the bully's taunt.

Thomas Reece NCR What moral theologians say about getting involved in Syria As the Obama administration prepares to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, what are the ethicists saying about the morality of military intervention? In this article, I will examine their views about whether intervention in Syria fits the criteria of a just war. Links are provided to the more complete thoughts of each expert.

Pax Christi urgently calls religious leaders – regardless of the specific community to which they belong – to use their moral authority to speak clearly and with urgency in private and in public for an end to violence; to strongly call for a political solution to the armed conflict; to support the creation of zones of non-violence; and to promote active campaigns of prayer, non-cooperation and public witness for an immediate end to the violence in Syria.

Pax Christi Syrians Need Safety Zones for Humanitarian Relief
Syria’s government, responsible for protecting the people, is not only failing to do so, but is accused of viciously attacking civilian communities, including with its substantial air force. Between the Assad government, the Free Syrian Army and the many extremist elements increasingly involved in the conflict, few people we met in Lebanon thought that a negotiated solution in the near future was possible. Instead they were predicting a long, bloody war. We heard strong voices speak against any kind of a military intervention, but for consistent, diplomatic, relief and solidarity support from other countries without self-interested geopolitical maneuvering. - See more here.

John L Allen Jnr (NCR) Syrian Christians say Western attack could make things worse "We heard a lot about democracy and freedom from the U.S. in Iraq, and we see now the results -- how the country came to be destroyed," said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo in a recent interview. "The first to lose were the Christians of Iraq."

Do something today and add your signature to the petition which calls for a Non Violent resolution of the conflict in Syria.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Diary of a Pilgrimage for Peace in Brisbane

On Saturday September 7 I led a pilgrimage of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria through the suburbs of Brisbane.This initiative was a response to the call of Pope Francis that the day be dedicated by  public acts of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and around the world.

Prayer and fasting are  common religious  practices and the Pope  invited  Christians, people of  all religions and  those of good will to join this act of peacemaking”  As this day was also the Federal Election day the cause of peace and justice called for creative public witness to values that have been neglected by the major parties during the campaign.”

My hope is that this public witness will also result in the Australian Government choosing to support humanitarian aid rather then military intervention in Syria.

How do you go on pilgrimage in the city? I happen to have one of the Jubilee Staves that were given as symbols of the Biblical call to Jubilee in 2000 by the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Unfortunately the only online reference to these majestic items is a vexatious piece from Illinois of all places!! At least the stave stands out and I was able to make a couple of signs Pray for Syria that fluttered at the top.It was a bit challenging getting on and off buses and I was asked a few time through the day if it was a new kind of didgeridoo.

0800 Prayer at Polling Booth St Mark's Uniting Church Mnt Gravavtt East. This Uniting Church is a community hub that witnesses online and in the pews to the Gospel of Jesus. I began my pilgrimage here as it is both a local polling booth and a community that inspires me.I was joined by Anne Marie who is married to a Syrian. She had heard of the Pope's call for prayer and went online to find out if anything was arranged and found me in Google. (as one does,lol) We chatted and stood in silent prayer. Greetings from a couple of locals and visitors in the line waiting to vote built the solidarity.

1030 Holy Hour and Eucharist Cathedral of St Stephen Elizabeth Street Brisbane. When I arrived at the Cathedral a group of people were gathering for a morning tea. They were a home schooling community and one of the members came over to tell me that they had included a prayer for Syria in the Mass which they had just celebrated. The woman I was speaking to went on to tell me that her son was standing for Family First at the election so I asked about the weather on Toowoomba. and we had a much more engaging conversation. A group gathered to pray the rosary and a good crowd arrived for the Mass. the only response I got from members of the congregation was a young woman who asked if I was Catholic and then walked away seemingly relieved.

1230 Prayer at Eternal Flame Anzac Square Brisbane. From this point on I stood alone in the city with traffic passing by and the occasional tourist who stooped to take a pic at the Shrine.These places gave me time to

1330 Prayer at Defense Force Recruitment Centre 410 Ann Street Brisbane. This  is  an imposing "Tower" across the road from  St John's Anglican Cathedral which will host the Brisbane Peace Day Lecture by Hon Michael Kirby on September 21st. .

1400 Prayer at Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade150 Charlotte Street Brisbane.  This like so many other city buildings is designed to impress with its glass, chrome and height. There is no public signage that tells passers by of the offices inside.

1530 Prayer at Griffith Electoral Office of PM Kevin Rudd  630 Wynnum Road Morningside. By this time of the afternoon my feet were dragging a bit and it was good to have 20 minutes on a bus trip to the next stop. For the first time in the day I was greeted by others waiting to join me. Erin and Sandra welcomed me and a short time later we were rejoined by Anne Marie who  came with her husband Maurice.  We stood together, three Australians and two Syrians talking of grief, anxiety and loss.We spoke of the destruction of Maaloula stood in silent praye trusting that our witness would strengthen each other and encourage others who would want to be with us.

1700 Labyrinth Walk for Peace  Brisbane Powerhouse. The day finished with other members of Sandra's Family joining Erin and I for a peace walk at the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth meditation is a powerful exercise on pilgrimage. The walk takes your body through a pattern of circular trails to a centre space and then retraces your steps before sending you back out to the maze of life.For the first time  in my life  I walked with Syrians together seeking a peaceful and nonviolent resolution to conflict. Our farewell hugs were embraces of commitment that I will not rest from peacemaking and promoting  the way of nonviolence.

1800 Breaking of the Fast Tibetan Kitchen 454 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley. One of the best parts of any penitential act is the  breaking of a fast and the celebration that all of us can undergo a change of heart to the way of Jesus and other great women and men of peace. In religious  tradition the sharing of food and drink is a sacred act that bonds community. To finish the day eating food from another culture in "The Valley" also reminded me  of a  graced diversity that nurtures life to the full. As Erin and I walked back to the train station the people who greeted us were Aboriginal people and a colourful Valley identity, Clinton who uses a wheelchair for mobility.Pilgrimages never finish!!

Some of the text I will use through the day includes  set of prayers and meditations composed by Rev John Dear SJ for the International Day of Nonviolence. You can download this text here.

In the Archdiocese of Brisbane  the week of 8-15 September will be a time of special prayer for Syria, with a day of fasting on Friday, 13 September.