Ceremony awarding Papal Honours to Mr Serge Rosato and Tree Planting Ceremony on the Anniversary of the Blue Mountains Bushfires St Thomas Aquinas Primary, Springwood, 17 October 2014
In our reading today, we hear St Paul thanking God for the faith of the Colossians and their love for the saints of God (Col 1:3-5). He speaks of the hope that is the promise of their eternal reward in heaven. Today, the community of faith here in Springwood likewise gives thanks to God and, in a sign of their faith and hope, will plant fifty trees, one to represent each staff member. They signify the school parents' gratitude for the courage of the staff a year ago in evacuating their children to safety, even while bushfires ravaged the area and threatened and destroyed some of the teachers own family homes.
While we give thanks that all were brought to safety, we also recall and acknowledge the tremendous suffering wrought one year ago. Fire, we know, is part of the ordinary rhythm of life and death and rebirth in this land, and especially so up here in the mountains. The very trees – and the air and views and ecosystems they enable – that attract us to living here are, ironically, a hazard for human homes and communities. The reality of fires, whether natural, accidental or, most horribly, lit deliberately, is part of the price we pay for living in such a beautiful environment. How we respond when such trials by fire come our way, however, can be the true test of our mettle.
This community of Springwood and of this school of St Thomas Aquinas inspired our city and nation by the way it responded to such an ordeal one year ago. Today's tree planting is a testament to courage and community, to the faith, hope and love lived in real relationships and real actions, to that resilience and dynamism that means Church, school and community are forever renewing themselves, just as our natural world is. For some of you much more than a new tree has been required: whole houses have had to be rebuilt, and with them new friendships and new lives, and I pay particular tribute to those who have faced the particular challenge of starting again.
I also thank the Catholic community and the wider community of the Mountains and beyond for their support. I was personally very moved at the time of our Fire Appeal that we had messages not just from all around this city, but all around the country and the world, even from the Pope himself; and often with those messages came prayers and financial assistance. With CatholicCare Social Services Parramatta, the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Parish of St Thomas Aquinas led by Fr Paul Slyney PP, the communities of both the primary and secondary schools, and other community groups, we have worked together to ensure those rebuilding their lives were assisted spiritually, psychologically and materially.
A word, if I may, about your principal. The staff, parents and students of our school, as well as officials of the Catholic Education Office Parramatta, the Fire Service and the wider community, have commended to me the particular leadership that Mr Serge Rosato gave at the time of the fires last year. If I may read a brief citation I received: “Serge Rosato will long be remembered for the exemplary courage he demonstrated in evacuating his entire school during life-threatening bushfires in October 2013. He remained calm and dedicated, ensuring every child was accounted for and safely reunited with their families. This was despite his awareness that his own home had been destroyed. The actions of Mr Sergio Rosato were heroic and exceptional. He is a man of strong faith, strong moral principles and integrity, and a proactive member of his Parish.”
I know Serge would say, has said, he was “just doing his job”. While people attend to be acknowledged for doing extraordinary things, too rarely in life, I suspect, are they recognized for doing ordinary things, things in the course of their ordinary duties, extraordinary well. Well today such recognition has come for one member of our community. I have received another message from Pope Francis. He has advised me that “in recognition of his singular service to the Christian life” Mr Serge Rosato is awarded the gold papal medal “Benemerenti”. This may come as a surprize! Congratulations Serge. Congratulations Kerryn, Pat and Laura. Congratulations to this community. Today's papal honour and our tree planting ceremony testify to the Holy Spirit alive and active in this community. May God bless you all!