Closeness and Tenderness
Archbishop’s Message – August
CERTAINLY one of the great highlights of the recent Australian Bishops’ AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM gathering in Rome was our time spent with Pope Francis.
It was both an informal and pastoral dialogue with the Pope. He so generously spent about two and a half hours with us. Present were the Pope and the 40 Australian Bishops.
The Pope had a very capable translator. The Pope made it clear from the outset that there would be no formal speeches. He simply wished us to enter into a time of listening and dialogue on any topic we wished to address. Humbly, as any gracious host might do, he offered us water in small plastic bottles and even told us where the toilets could be found!
Quite apart from the pastoral discussions, so many of us were taken by the humility of the Pope – a sign of great leadership always! For example, as he talked with us, he would ensure personally that the glass of his hard working translator was filled with water – he did not seem concerned about his own glass.
Pope Francis talked often about how Bishops are to be close to God, to their clergy, to their people and to the poor of the world. He often used the Italian word “avvicinarsi” – to draw near, to be close – to move closer.
It reminded me of other terms so typical of his pontificate – to develop a “culture of tenderness”, to walk with people, and accompany them on the journey of life. This is the missionary way the Pope offers to all of us. It is the way Jesus walks with all, at all times! It is the way of missionary discipleship. It is the way of evangelisation. It is the way of the Plenary Council of Autralia.
This way of closeness and tenderness to all peoples is not the public perception that many in Australia have of the Catholic Church. That is why it is a missionary priority for the Church – to be who we are called to be by Jesus.
Too many Australians have a perception of us as being disinterested, aloof and even arrogant. Let us break down this perception by advancing our Gospel “culture of tenderness” – just like Jesus. This will take time and requires few words but humble actions. It suggests a dialogue of mutual respect and expressing “truth in love” (Ephesians 4/15).
All of this reminds me of the lovely story of the Aboriginal Elder of the Tiwi Islands – Marjorie Liddy – who died in recent years.
She was fishing with her son one evening. They were returning home when darkness came. The moon seemed strangely to disappear. She was astonished to see a strange arrangement of the stars. Her son noticed it too. I believe they were having a kind of apparition. Her son said the star arrangement looked like an enormous bird. “No, it is not a bird, son,” she said, “It is the Holy Spirit!”
Encouraged by her priest and bishop, she painted what she saw in the sky that night. It became the international symbol, approved by the Vatican, of World Youth Day Sydney 2008.
As many people in Australia today say of the Catholic Church in one way or another, “Oh, It’s just a bird!”, we can imitate Marjorie Liddy and reply back, “Sons and daughters of Australia, she is not a bird, she is the Body of Christ, The Community of the Holy Spirit, Jesus among us!”
May this be our missionary priority – all done with tender “avvicinarsi”!