€œ2011 Christmas Message - The Gift of Peace€

After the Australian Bishops Ad Limina visit to Rome I went on another trip to what I call the €œMiddle East€ which is Leonora, Laverton and Leinster in the eastern part of our Diocese.

While there on Pastoral Visitation and celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation in the three towns, I visited the detention Centre in Leonora. This Centre has been operating over a year now and has had close to two hundred refugees of mainly family groupings from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iran. At present though there are approximately seventy unaccompanied minors (13-18yr olds) mainly from Afghanistan but also from Iran. Four of these came to Church the Sunday I was there to celebrate Confirmation.

The Centre is called APOD (Alternative Place of Detention) and is one of the few humane detention centres in Australia. One of the reasons for this is that the management and staff treat the refugees with respect. I and those who visit regularly, witness this.  

As you would have read in the October edition of the Sower Sr Annette Dever sgs regularly visits the Centre and conducts a prayer service for the Catholics / Christians and anyone else who wishes to attend. Mass has been celebrated in there in the past but the people are now able to come to the Church for the monthly Mass.

The Sri Lankan detainees who were mainly Tamils and Catholics would come to Mass, but there were also other Christians from the (real) Middle East and some non Christians that would attend as well. Having priests like Fr Joseph Ratnaraj and Fr John Martin CSSr, who speak Tamil, was a great help for Mass. During these Masses each nationally was able to read the Gospel in their own language. It was a story from one of these multi-cultural Masses that I wish to highlight.

Sr Annette told me that the various nationalities, together with the few locals, had gathered for Mass. Some of the Staff from the Centre came with them. This particular time the visiting Psychologist was also present.

The people from the Centre had taken up their seating in their own national groups. At the sign of peace however, the children went around the church sharing peace with everyone '€“ and the adults followed suit. Later the Psychologist spoke to Sr Annette saying how he was quite moved at the Mass '€“ particularly at the sign of peace. He added it would have been wonderful if Mass could have been celebrated at the Centre with everybody attending and sharing the sign of peace across the various nationalities. In the camp these groupings generally keep to themselves '€“ not only because of language but also at times because of some suspicion and friction.

I thought to myself '€˜Here is Jesus in our day and in our humble corrugated iron church of Leonora continuing to bring the gift of peace that He came to share with the world'€™. The peace of Christ permeates the Gospels beginning with the angel heralding '€˜Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill'€™and with our Saviour'€™s words of peace being a greeting in itself '€œPeace be with you'€ or again '€œPeace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you'€. In uttering the words of the Beatitudes,'€˜Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven'€™ Christ elevates and rewards those who strive to work for it.

Christ knows full well the many obstacles to peace we encounter in our own local surroundings and certainly in the world that we live in but he does not want us to lose heart, to let fear or prejudices blind us to the greatest gift we can share with others '€“ His peace.

It is a peace that the world cannot give, but with Him and in Him we can do it. It was, I believe, something witnessed to in that corrugated iron church in Leonora.

This Christmas as we ponder the great gift of Christ let us find the time to ask ourselves, '€œHow do I and how can I bring the gift of peace I have received from Christ to those around me?'€ At the same time this Christmas let us develop an even deeper closeness to our Lord and Saviour Jesus, so that He and His power will work more through us and our human efforts. To have a small part of the unbiased and open attitude of those children at the Leonora church will certainly go a long way!

Pax et Bonum '€“ Peace and Goodwill this Christmas to one and all as St Francis of Assisi always wished others.