Homily for Opening Mass of Pallium Pilgrimage

23 Jun 2015
Homily for Opening Mass of Pallium Pilgrimage

Introduction to the Opening Mass of Pallium Pilgrimage
Chapel of St Peter Chanel, Domus Australia, 23 June 2015

Welcome to this Mass tonight. A special welcome to the pilgrims attending our week of festivities in the Eternal City of Rome and beyond on the occasion of Pope Francis blessing and distributing the pallium to those appointed Metropolitan Archbishops around the world over the last twelve months. I will say more about what that is all about at our reception later tonight.

As you look around the chapel after Mass you will see many figures from Australia’s spiritual history: St Mary MacKillop of course, but also the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding, and a painting of the first Catholic community in Sydney praying with the Blessed Sacrament left by a French priest who visited the early colony when there were still no Catholic chaplains. Speaking of French priests, one whose image is found repeatedly in this church is St Peter Chanel. He was not a perfume manufacturer but a 19th century shepherd boy who rose to be a great shepherd of souls. He had a missionary spirit and so after ordination as a priest volunteered to be sent to India. His bishop said NO, so he joined a newly forming religious order to be dedicated to Mary and the missions, known today as the Marist fathers. Eventually he got his wish and was sent as superior of a band of seven Marist missionaries to the Pacific Islands. They travelled to the Canary Islands, Valparaiso, Gambier, Wallis and ultimately Futuna. They learnt the local language and taught the locals about Christianity.

After a few natives were converted, the king began to fear for his political and spiritual authority. When his own son sought Baptism he decided enough was enough: he sent assassins to axe and club the missionaries to death and so ended the life of Peter Chanel on 28 April 1841. A French naval ship collected his mortal remains, which were then embalmed for the long journey back to France. En route the ship stopped in Sydney town and Peter Chanel’s body was venerated in Sydney before its guardians set sail for Europe. His remains were then interred at the Marist Mother House in Paris for more than a century until 1977 when, at the request of the peoples of the Pacific, they were repatriated to Futuna. Chanel was beatified in 1889 and canonized in 1954 as the protomartyr and Patron Saint of Oceania. Because this house was previously a Marist seminary Peter Chanel is its patron; but as this house is now a little bit of Australia and Oceania in Rome, he is an appropriate co-patron for this place with Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei, whose very Dominican image, painted by a Dominican lay saint, Blessed Bartolo Longo, is here in this Church.

I acknowledge in attendance tonight His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra Matthew Festing, and His Excellency, the Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See, Mr John McCarthy QC. Concelebrating with me tonight are the Rector of Domus Australia Fr Andrew James, the Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Sydney Fr Gerry Gleeson, the Dominican Provincial Fr Kevin Saunders, several priests of Sydney or other parts of Australia, with seminarians. Welcome to you all! 

Homily for Opening Mass of Pallium Pilgrimage
Chapel of St Peter Chanel, Domus Australia, 23 June 2015

The oldies amongst us will remember the Pellegrini’s Religious Supplies shops once in the CBDs of Sydney and Parramatta. The word pellegrini is of course Italian for pilgrims and conveys, to begin with, the idea of a wanderer or adventurer. We have wandered far from home and our usual daily lives – 16,311 km through the air to be precise. But the word ‘wanderer’ suggests a lack of purpose and so a term like adventurer might better capture what we are about: adventurers know what they are after and intend to take some risks and gain some treasure along the way. But pilgrim is the best word for what we are on this trip – a word that the Second Vatican Council used to describe every Christian and the Church as a whole (LG ch 7). As that Council taught, “we have not yet appeared with Christ in glory but, united with Christ in the Church and marked with the Holy Spirit” we are pilgrims on the way to that union with Christ in glory (48 cf. Col 3:4).

And so we are pilgrims on this earth, pilgrims to the heart of the universal Church, ‘the eternal city’ of Rome, with its obelisks, basilicas, pope and people. We have like Jesus and the twelve in our Gospel reading come away from our ordinary busyness and business, to give God some time to talk to us (Mk 6:30-34). Not that we have come to an especially quiet place: like Jesus and the lads we’ll find the crowds all around us. We will visit key sites of early Christianity. We will see where the Apostles Peter and Paul ended their witness to Christ at the basilicas of St Peter and of St Paul. We will keep company with the first generation of Christians, alongside some of the Church’s heroes. We will encounter saints and martyrs of Rome such as St Clement the fourth pope and St Ignatius of Antioch one of the greatest bishops. We will engage holy doctors and missionaries such as Sts Cyril and Methodius and visit sites associated with the great mediaeval saints, St Dominic, St Francis and St Thomas Aquinas. There will be space for more recent saints, too, such as Peter Chanel, Jose-Maria Escrivar, John XXIII and John Paul II. We will reflect on the power of a tradition to carry a saving memory forward, and on the role of its guardian institutions, the papacy and episcopacy. We will experience a visible manifestation of the communion between the Holy Father and the bishops in their various provinces around the world at the blessing of the pallia on the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul.

People talk today about a sea change or tree change but what pilgrims are looking for is a D-change: a change in the nature and intensity of their discipleship. Alongside his messages of inclusion, mercy and now stewardship of creation, Pope Frances’ most common theme as pope has been that Christians must become missionary disciples, intentional disciples, ready to reach out to those on the ‘peripheries’. We can no longer rely upon cultural inertia to carry us, he says, no longer expect the professional missionaries to do all the work for us. Nor should we imagine that the mission field is far away, in deepest, darkest Africa or wherever: the ‘peripheries’, where people are aching for meaning and consolation, for that love, unity, humility and joy that St Paul spoke of tonight (Phil 2:1-4), may well be in our own families, schools, streets, workplaces, friendship groups. So we need not a sea-change but a D-change.

People talk today of mid-life crisis, or at least a mid-life course adjustment: mine was thrust upon me by Pope Francis last September! But I dare say I am praying for such a change for all of you too, and for a deeper change than just one of office or address. The life-crisis that every pilgrim seeks, knowingly or not, is an eternal life crisis, a course adjustment that sets you up for everlasting happiness. Because places can deeply affect temperaments, work, personal life, identity and mission, pilgrims embark on a pilgrimage with hearts and minds open to the new things God might do in us, open to new purpose, direction, inspiration. More than seeing and photographing localities and monuments what pilgrims have always sought is an internal journey to an eternal destination.

Most of us know a bit about St Peter the first Pope and St Paul the Apostle. St James, another of the Twelve, is less well known. After Pentecost he heard the Spirit say “Go West young man” and so he took the Gospel to the edge of Europe, the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal. Fourteen centuries later the children of Santiago, as they call him, took the Gospel even further West, to the Americas. Of the 196 or so countries in the world, a quarter of the world’s Christians live in just three: the US, Brazil and Mexico. So you might say St James, Part One and Part Two, was the most successful missionary in history!

After his efforts in Spain James returned to Jerusalem where King Herod rewarded him for his efforts by chopping off his head (Acts 12:2). His disciples recovered the body and eventually took it back to Spain to what is now Santiago de Compostela, the greatest pilgrim destination for Christians after Jerusalem and Rome. St James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims and it is on his Feast Day that our pallium pilgrimage will come to its fruition: whereas Pope Francis will bless the pallium on next Monday’s Feast of Sts Peter and Paul he has asked that the actual investiture occur when the Archbishops return to their people. And so it will be on the Feast of St James that the Pope’s ambassador, the Apostolic Nuncio, will impose the pallium upon me in the presence of those who could not join us here in Rome.
Some of you will have seen the movie The Way. It’s the story of a father who heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died along the Camino – the ancient pilgrim way to Santiago de Compostela. He ends up completing the walk in place of his son. A small group attach themselves to him, each struggling with their own demons and on a personal journey of self-discovery and God-discovery. Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez said they intended the film as a homage to Christ and his disciples, but they cleverly avoided heavy-handedness regarding religion. By the end a Church-hating Irishman is kneeling saying the Rosary, a woman who has had an abortion finds forgiveness, and a father who has lost his son to death finds him for the first time. Our pilgrimage to Rome might not be half so dramatic, but who knows what God has in store for each one of us?

On this pilgrimage, I pray that more so than enjoying monuments and museums we encounter Christ. Hopefully, the holy places we visit will aid in that encounter. If, as a result, we come back as more missionary disciples, more enthusiastic about sharing all that is good and true and beautiful, all that is most human and most divine, then this pilgrimage will really add value to our lives as Christians. St Peter and St Paul, pray for us! St James of Compostella and St Peter Chanel, pray for us! All Holy men and women, pray for us!