26 Jan 2022

Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Peter Chanel, Domus Australia, 26th January 2022

Like the afflictions of Egypt, Australia over the past two years has known bushfires, floods, a mouse plague and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. The last of these may not have claimed every first-born son, but it has tested the mettle of this generation of Australians. They have proven remarkably cooperative with public health measures, achieving some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and signifying a readiness to pull together and look out for each other. Our governments responded decisively with public health and economic policies to cushion the epidemic. Health professionals and others spent themselves heroically. People adapted quickly and without fuss to working from home, live-streaming or Zooming where necessary.

Yet pandemics inevitably expose our vulnerability as individual human beings and the challenges of living well in community. They bring grief, fear and other strong emotions. Panicked shoppers cleared out the supermarkets and waged ‘world war loo’ over toilet rolls. There was contention over the science and politics of various measures, over the proper scope of public authority in such emergencies, and over the appropriate balance between personal autonomy and responsibilities to the common good. People’s trust in government, health experts, big pharma and the media was strained. At times Australia looked more like six countries than one, with the People’s Republic of Victoria achieving a world record for days of lockdown and the hermit kingdom of Western Australia remaining closed to the world and to other Australians! While we’ve fared better than most, Australians are not out of the woods yet and a third wave is washing over the country as we speak.

Even before the pandemic, medics and social scientists were observing a rise in anxiety disorders, especially in young people.[1] Some attributed it to the relentless stresses of our competitive society, consumer economy and changing culture. Others blamed technology and especially the social media for peddling far more fear than hope, encouraging the endless pursuit of affirmation of some elusively perfect digital self, and rewarding this with online violence. Looking at anxiety and depression from the inside, journalist Johann Hari argues that we must look beyond the physiology and pharmacology to the social and cultural causes.[2] Philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that in a secular age where people no longer expect supernatural explanations, assistance or consolation, we are left with the doomed project of trying to control every aspect of our destiny ourselves.[3] No doubt others have other things to say about all the worrying…

The chapel of Domus Australia is unique in many ways and one may be the presence of the arms of the Commonwealth of Australia above the sanctuary. In it we see hints of Australia’s natural wonders and human heritage. Kangaroo, emu and wattle surround the emblem, with magpie and black swan within, reminding us that there was an Australia before the Europeans. The six coats of arms in the escutcheon tell of the colonies that made up the eventual commonwealth, and the images of the St Edward’s crown and the British lion speak to their origins. But the presence of a Maltese cross hints that not all the settlers were Anglo-Irish. Were we to ask what will provide Australians with the internal resources and external cohesion to go forward through present anxieties? our Commonwealth arms might answer: the natural gifts of our continent, the ancient indigenous culture, the more recent settler history, and the unique polity that has brought these things together.

But there is more. There are three crosses in the Australian arms: the red cross of St George, the white Southern Cross and the blue Maltese cross. All are Christian symbols: even the astronomical constellation only appears as a cross to the Christian eye. The ‘Commonwealth star’ above the whole design and echoed throughout the chapel floor has seven points, one for each state and one for the territories and dependencies of Australia. But the seven-pointed star also intimates the seven days of creation, the seven hills of Rome, the seven sacraments, and the seven Christian virtues. So were we to ask again what might provide Australians with the internal resources and external cohesion they need in the face of present anxieties? we might see in our Commonwealth arms pointers to the gifts of nature, indigenous culture and settler history, but also the Christian heritage that informs Australia’s laws, customs and ideals.

Of course, anxiety is not unique to twenty-first century Australia. The dangerous, the unknown, and the awesome can all evoke fear. Throughout the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and people are told to be not afraid; at the beginning of the New Testament, angels tell Joseph, Mary and the shepherds the same; and in the chapters that follow Jesus says it many times to His disciples. Our God is not a distant or indifferent God, let alone a hostile one: He loves us and holds the future in His hand and so we need not stress too much about it. “Don’t worry about your life—what you are to eat or wear,” Jesus says today, “Worrying about them won’t extend your life one cubit… So stop all the anxiety… Be not afraid, little flock!” (Lk 12:22-32) St Mary MacKillop, whose relic we have on her altar today for veneration after Mass, had many causes to worry: indifferent health, mixed success at begging, tensions with Fr Tennison-Woods and some of her own sisters, uncertain approval from local bishops and Rome, hostile education authorities, complex travels, even bubonic plague which came to Sydney and forced her sisters out of their convent in the Rocks.[4] Yet she remained ever confident: “Believe me, an ever watchful providence is guiding all things to our mutual good,”[5] she said, so “have good courage”,[6] “be not afraid”[7], “trust in God”.[8]

Is this just the blind hope of saints—or are there real causes for our hope? Well, for one thing our Old Testament passages highlight the gifts of the natural universe including fertile land and fruit (Isa 32:15-18; Ps 84(85):9-14), our coat of arms showcases the fauna and flora with which Australia has been particularly blessed, and Jesus Himself points to the ‘magpies’ that neither sow nor reap but rely upon providence to feed them, and to the ‘wattle’ that doesn’t spin or weave but is clothed in gold like Solomon. And as those same Old Testament readings acknowledge, there is also human goodness, justice, integrity and peace, or as our national badge displays many past and present ideals, or as Paul (Rom 12:9-13) and Jesus affirm there’s the human willingness to love, be hospitable, trust and serve. Above all, we are promised spiritual gifts, in the prophecies of Isaiah and Paul that mean we “need not give up if trials come”, in the crosses and stars in our national arms, and in Jesus’ counsel to “seek first the kingdom and all the rest will be given you.”

“We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on earth we come,” Bruce Woodley says in what’s become our second national anthem. The words echo New Testament prophesy: “We are one body, though we are many”, “saints from every nation and tongue” (Rom 12:5,20; Rev 5:9-10; 7:9). “We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice,” our song continues. “My dream was of a new heaven and a new earth,” our Bible finishes, “where all the living creatures sing with one voice” (Rev 4:8,10; 5:9-13; 21:1) . Fire, pandemic, whatever challenges come next, Australians can be confident: that we have been truly blessed in our land, our people, above all in our God whose grace unites and directs both. Thanks be to God! Happy Australia Day!


Welcome to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Peter Chanel here at Domus Australia for our 2022 celebration of Australia Day.

I salute Her Excellency the Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See Chiara Porro, Her Excellency the Ambassador of Australia to Italy Margaret Twomey AM, both representing the government and people of Australia, His Excellency the New Zealand Ambassador to Italy Anthony Simpson, along with embassy staff of several nations, and other honoured guests.

I recognise the leaders of several religious orders, including Fr John Larsen SM Superior-General of the Marists, Fr Robert McCulloch SSC Procurator-General of the Columban Fathers, Fr Tony Banks OSA Assistant Superior General of the Augustinians, Br Anthony Shanahan CFC representing the Superior-General of the Christian Brothers, and Sr Josephine Kane RNDM Mother General of Our Lady of the Mission. Fr Anthony Ekpo is representing the Rome campus of the Australian Catholic University. I greet the several concelebrating priests, and the other clergy, religious, seminarians and lay faithful working or studying here in Rome.

For hosting us all today I thank the Rector of Domus Australia Fr Robert Hayes, General Manager Signor Fabrizio Petrocchi, and our legal and financial advisers Signori Carlo Della Vedova and Michele Bianchi.

When last I was in Rome, two years ago, a little understood contagion from China had erupted in northern Italy and was creeping down the Italian peninsula. When I returned to Australia I was advised that one of those at my conference in Rome had COVID-19 and I was required to be tested and isolate. Since then the virus has caused 5.6 million deaths and disrupted billions of lives. We continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and, on this day in particular, for the safety and prosperity of the citizens and friends of Australia. To everyone present a very warm welcome!

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00296-x 6.9% of Australians aged 4 to 17 experience an anxiety disorder (panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder) each year: D. Lawrence et al,  The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents: Report on the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Canberra: Department of Health, 2015); Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, Can We Talk? Seven year youth mental health report 2012-2018 (2019); Olivia Willis, “Mental health concerns increasingly common among young Australians,” ABC Health & Wellbeing 23 October 2019; Michaela Pascoe, “Nearly half of Australian school kids are stressed,” SMH 28 January 2018. Stephen Reid, Trudy Dantis & Annemarie Atapattu, Australian Catholic Bishops Youth Survey 2017 (Canberra: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Research Office, 2017) found mental health, especially anxiety, the single most commonly named concern of young adults.

[2] Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions (2018).

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (2007).

[4] Cf. Paul Gardiner SJ, Mary MacKillop: An Extraordinary Australian (1993), p. 144 etc.

[5] Mary MacKillop 1873; cf. “God will provide for the future” 1907; “Trust in God’s Providence, interfering – as it always does – for our own good” 9 July 1874. Quotes from http://sosj.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/12631.pdf

[6] Mary MacKillop 30 November 1868, 6 January 1870, 7 April 1870, 19 July 1870, 14 October 1871, 25 November 1871, 13 April 1874  etc. Cf. “Do have courage. We must all willingly and with constancy suffer all that God sends for our good.”15 January 1872; “Keep up your courage, we do not live forever.” 27 January 1877; “Courage, courage, trust in God who helps you in all things” 10 March 1874; “Have courage, trust in God, St Joseph and our Blessed Mother, and you need have no fear” 4 April 1905; “Have courage, no matter what your crosses are” 7 May 1890; “Take fresh courage. Lean more on God and less on ourselves.” 21 May 1877; “Quiet, calm courage and humble confidence in God will be much required by you.” July 1868; “Keep up your courage, it is for God and not for creatures you are working” 15 July 1892; “Have courage and patience and God will help you in all things” 15 August 1899; “Courage, dear child, and do not yield to sadness’ 6 October 1898; “God loves courageous souls” 14 December 1890.

[7] Mary MacKillop 12 January 1909.

[8] Mary MacKillop 3 May 1874; cf. “In God alone I trust” 1 February 1874; “Do not let your troubles disturb your trust in God” 19 February 1885; “God has always heled me and I have more than every cause to trust in Him” 10 March 1874; “God is merciful and wants you to trust in this sweet mercy” 12 March 1876; “Courage, courage, trust in God who helps you in all things” 10 March 1874; “Have courage, trust in God, St Joseph and our Blessed Mother, and you need have no fear” 4 April 1905; “I feel more trust in God than ever” 13 April 1874; “I trust that you keep up your spirits, and your trust and confidence in the goodness of God” 30 October 1880; “I would advise all to trust more to God, and of course, prayerfully to seek God’s guidance” 1 December 1898.