Bishop McKenna's Reflections on the Diocesan Pilgrimage
On 27th September, at the end of Sunday Mass in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. John, I blessed 17 stones from the Cathedral restoration work, one for each parish in our Diocese. To each stone was attached a plaque with the words of St. Peter: Be living stones making a spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer the spiritual sacrifices made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1Peter 2:5).
The plaque went on to record that each stone was presented to a particular parish on the day of its visit from the Pilgrimage celebrating the 150 years of the Diocese of Bathurst. On Monday 28th September, following Morning Prayer in the Cathedral and a blessing from Father Joe Dooley, the acting Vicar General, I set off with about 20 other pilgrims (and the stones!) for a 1250 km bus trip that took us over five days to every parish church plus eight Eucharistic communities.
It turned out to be a wonderful experience celebrating our communion as a diocesan family. It was certainly a blessing for me and, I believe, for the pilgrims and the people who welcomed us at every stop.
One of our first stops was at Portland, where we heard a comment that helped shape our understanding of the journey. In welcoming the pilgrims, Charlie O’Mahoney said that he thought pilgrimages only went to holy places, so perhaps Portland was a holy place. He was right on both counts. Everywhere there is a community of love and service is a holy place and we were to visit 25 of them.
At each stop, I invited those present to join in prayer for the local community and for all the communities that make up our Diocese. I asked them to pray with one heart, as members of a diocesan family with a common mission.
In most places, we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the appropriate time of day. This Prayer of the Church, consisting mainly of the Psalms, linked us to everyone throughout the world who performs this Divine Office that sanctifies each day.
At the conclusion, before presenting the commemorative stone as a symbol that, together, we build up the living Church of Bathurst, I asked each community to do three things.
First, to listen to God. Often enough, in our prayer, we end up doing most of the talking. But we need to let God speak to us, too. He communicates with us in silence and in his Word, especially through the Holy Scriptures.
Second, to share the Word of God. Our faith is not given to us as a private treasure, but something to be shared with others, whether they also have some faith, or have yet to find it. That is when it grows.
These two things – listening to God’s Word, and sharing it – are best done when we meet together in Christ. I encouraged people to come to the Word and Faith groups already operating, and to start new ones. They are an ideal setting to listen and share. These groups will come into their own when they welcome more people who are not regularly attending Mass, or indeed may not be Catholics or Christians at all.
The third request I made was for parishes to unite in prayer for the Synod on the Family, which was to commence at the conclusion of the Pilgrimage. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit, working through the Synod and Pope Francis, would reawaken our appreciation of Marriage and Family, this gift from God: and guide us in responding how to live it out, according to each person’s call.
After prayer, each community looked after us wonderfully well with food and drink. The four parishes we overnighted in also generously opened their homes to lodge the pilgrims. Hospitality is a hallmark of a true Christian community: and we found it at every stop along the way.
I thank God for the Pilgrimage; and for the organizers, parishioners and pilgrims who made it happen. It has been a sign of hope and joy as we meet the obstacles and opportunities that each day brings on our journey together to the Kingdom of God, our only future.
Bishop of Bathurst