Catholics are bridge builders
It may surprise you to know that the first time the term CATHOLIC CHURCH was used was by St Ignatius of Antioch in 110 AD. The word “Catholic” means “Universal”. In other words, we are open to everyone. Not only that, our missionary imperative means that we create bridges to all peoples, all cultures, and all epochs of history. To be a Catholic is to be a bridge builder.
This fact may be easier said than done.
A personal example comes to mind. You may recall that last year the bishops of Australia met with Pope Francis in Rome. After this unforgettable gathering I visited friends of mine in northern Italy. On the way I made a stop-over in Bologna.
So there I was having my yuppie caffe latte early one morning seated on a side walk outside a yuppie coffee shop in the centre of historic Bologna.
I was reading the daily Italian newspaper. There was an interesting article about the unprecedented flow of African refugees making the perilous sea journey across the Mediterranean seeking asylum in Italy. Thousands have arrived in recent years. The article was about the challenges this caused Italy.
As I was reading, I felt as if someone was nearby me. I looked up and saw a very tall African man beside me with his hand extended in my direction. He looked quite severe. In sudden surprise, I too must have seemed similarly severe looking back at him.
What to say? What to do?
I found myself asking him: “Have you had breakfast yet?” He nodded in the negative. I stood up and we both went into the shop to order breakfast. Perhaps I should not have done this. A number of the customers stood aside immediately for us to proceed. They seemed frightened.
So there we were eating breakfast together. He told me he was from Nigeria. Once relaxed, he was polite and articulate. His family’s desperate situation had made him make the dangerous journey to Europe.
Now in Bologna, he said he had to make a basic choice between three impossible options: joint the drug trade, steal or beg. He chose the latter: hence the hand outstretched.
There is more to be said about this story but this is enough. Suffice it to say that when I left him I felt that we did try to dialogue and show respect to each other. I was thinking that my contribution was but a “drop in the ocean”.
I thought of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s consoling quote: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
I suppose we were both trying to build bridges between two completely different worlds: the “haves” and the “have nots”.
The ministry of Jesus could be described as continually building bridges on all levels between God the Father and humanity. The greatest bridge of all is the everlasting bridge between heaven and earth made in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The particular apostolate of St Paul was to be “The Apostle to the Gentiles”. That is, to build a bridge between the worlds of the believers and the pagans.
In the context of Covid-19, we are asked to build bridges in the situation we all find ourselves in now.
It forces us to build a bridge between an individualistic Australia where “it is all about me” and a communitarian Australia where “it is all about us”.
Pope Francis summarises well the present challenge. He says, “We can only get out of this situation together, as a whole humanity”.
Covid 19 forces us to co-operate with each other like never before. Medical protocols do seem inconvenient and intrusive. However, we all know that they are necessary.
Hopefully, when this crisis passes, we can retain the communitarian Australian spirit we are all now trying to live out. To be permanent bridge builders together is essential. It reminds me of the well know expression of some years ago: “Think globally, act locally.”
Our faith and even our common religious name as “Catholics” ought to place us in a good position to live out practically the name we so proudly acclaim.
Catholics are bridge builders – let us then build in our Covid 19 world!
Archbishop Christopher Prowse