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Preserving the Eternal Mystery: a challenge for all Christians, Jews, Moslems and Sikhs

By George Pell - posted Sunday, 15 July 2001

Opportunities abound in many different areas. For as long as we have been on this continent, the Catholic Church has embraced these opportunities for service and helped construct the social capital, the fund of decency, at the core of Australian life. A central part of that core has been a multitude of lay faithful, married and single, who have lived out their baptismal promises in the love of Christ. A central challenge that still remains is reconciliation with the original inhabitants.

Most Australians do not enjoy the steady rainfall we receive in Sydney. Much of our continent is dry, so we Australians understand the imagery of water, its life-giving power. Like the early Christians we understand what is being claimed of the streams of crystal clear water issuing from the throne of the Lamb to nourish the tree of life.

For more than 200 years the different Christian traditions have watered the heartlands of Australian life, served the battlers, built communities, brought compassion to the suffering. It matters little whether the Catholic community is best compared to the Murray or the Murrumbidgee or the Darling River, but we are a river, a source of life, beside the other Christian rivers.


Our task is to ensure that these spiritual waters continue to run strong and deep; that the source is not blocked; that the flow does not fall away to a trickle; that the water does not turn sour and brackish; that not too much is lost into billabongs, closed backwaters without escape, where the water can only eddy in circles, as it evaporates or seeps into the sand.

Contrary to some claims, the Catholic Church is not about power and prestige, but about worship and service. We are more than a service club; certainly not a political party.

We are a community of individuals and families, united in worship around the one true God and the Lamb, the scriptural term used to describe the Son of God, who was born of Mary the Virgin, who died to redeem us and rose again as our personal Saviour.

Our source of grace, of the spiritual energy, which, for example, inspired more martyrs to give their lives for the Faith last century than in any other century, is Jesus of Nazareth, incarnate Son of God, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, refugee in Egypt, missing in the Temple as a teenager, hidden from history until he began his three year ministry as a teacher and healer of sins and sickness; who wept over Jerusalem, condemned the hypocrites and exploiters, consoled the women on the way to Calvary and was helped by a stranger, Simon of Cyrene. He is our model. He is our Messiah. Loved by many, followed by some, hated by a few, he was crucified, buried and rose again. We call this man-God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

It is our sacred duty to hand on this torch of Faith, this sustaining conviction of the centrality of Jesus Christ to all people young and old. This Faith we offer to the wider community, where the collapse of denominational prejudice offers new opportunities as many seek for meaning and a sense of direction in their lives.

All cultures have struggled to approach and to reverence the Transcendent, which has moulded human development in a bewildering variety of ways. But for Christians the first commandment will always be to love God, that eternal Mystery of Love, Beauty and Truth, ever ancient and ever new. The good God and his only Son must not be shunted from centre stage by any human good or activity: not by life issues, or family or social justice work or inter-religious dialogue.


It is here that we have our central challenge. The most significant religious change in Australia over the past 50 years is the increase of people without religion, now about one fifth of the population.

All monotheists, Christians and Jews, Moslems and Sikhs, must labour to reverse this. We must not allow the situation to deteriorate as it had in Elijah’s time, 850 years before Christ, where monotheism was nearly swamped by the aggressive paganism of the followers of Baal.

Please God, this challenge will be answered in many ways among our lay faithful and religious orders. We know the Holy Spirit will continue to flow where He wills, but one constant in all Catholic history is the need for priests, for vocations to the ministerial priesthood. Our Lord himself appointed the twelve, called forth the shepherds, the fishers of men. St Paul underlined the importance of ambassadors for Christ. Without priests our parishes will wither and die.

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This is an edited version of the Homily of Archbishop Pell on his reception as eighth Archbishop of Sydney, given at Saint Mary’s Basilica, Sydney on May 10, 2001.

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George Cardinal Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

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