For sixteen years now I have been visiting the Pilbara Parishes bi-annually, being away for some six weeks at a time. I have just returned to Geraldton from one such Pastoral Visit.

The development in the north continues €“ oil, gas and iron ore production keep growing at a phenomenal rate as well as allied and other industries. Connected to this are the inevitable long working hours. The hours have grown to the limit. While there are many variations of working shifts, the hours of work are still long.

Then we also have the '€œFIFO'€ generation. People are flying in and out of all our northern towns. They travel to and from destinations across our state, country and even overseas.

This has dramatic and many negative affects on family life and relationships in the home.

Towns also have suffered. While there is still some community life in our towns it has decreased markedly over these years.

From the economic point of view alone, living with one'€™s family in the place where one works makes sense. Recently Andrew Forrest of FMG commented on how important this was for continuity with and loyalty to a company. One of his initiatives therefore has been to build houses for his workers in Hedland so that they can be there with their families.

We know how the practice of the faith in our Church has decreased in recent years across Australia. The conditions in the northern towns of our Diocese have seen this practice take a dive. In our small towns this decline is quite noticeable.

In all this though there are many reasons for and signs of hope.

The people still committed to practicing their Faith are wonderful. They encourage one another and are certainly an inspiration to me and to the Priests and Religious who minister to them.

While very busy some people still offer themselves for liturgical and catechetical ministry and for the various organizational matters and material aspects of Parish life.

I marvel at all this. While they live in a time where there is a huge counter-tide of indifference, different attitudes and even bewilderment, these good people still continue to live and practice their Faith.

The evidence of hope that such people give is a tribute to their goodness and how they allow the Grace of God to touch and affect their lives deeply.

In two of the northern towns there are RCIA groups with some ten people preparing to become fully part of our Church. Elsewhere individuals are joining the church as well or being nurtured back to practicing their Faith.

The Port Hedland Seafarers Centre is a combined one with the Anglican and Catholic Church. The Staff and Management Committee run a very good centre to welcome and offer hospitality and the spiritual ministry of our churches, when requested, to all Seafarers.

World Youth Day 08 is still alive and affecting our young people and Parishioners. There was enthusiastic sharing of the experiences of our young people back to the Parishes and schools who supported them. Time and time again people spoke of the great and positive coverage by the media of the Liturgies and events in Sydney. They spoke with appreciation of and affection for Pope Benedict XVI, his words and his obvious joy.

Young people want to carry forward what they experienced in Sydney as well as prepare already for World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

There are less young people for Confirmation these days. The ones who come forward are well prepared by family, Parish and school. Even though many candidates and families don'€™t regularly come to Mass what I read recently of Pope Benedict XVI in The Record (20th August issue) gave me great hope also.

The Pope was having a break in the northern part of Italy and had an informal meeting with the Priests in the area. One priest asked whether pastors should administer sacraments of Communion and Confirmation to young people who aren'€™t really aware of their significance.

The Pope, in a moment of self revelation that'€™s become typical of these encounters, said he used to be more strict about administering the sacraments, but he'€™s come to see that it'€™s more important to be generous if it can encourage a even a '€œglimmer'€ of faith.

Bp Justin Bianchini