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St Mary of the Cross
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Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (7:53 PM) —I rise tonight to speak briefly about the delegation to Rome for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, which I was a part of. It was a great honour to travel to Rome. I was in a delegation that included the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd; the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop; and Senator Ursula Stephens. We were there not just as a delegation but also to celebrate with many other Australians of many faiths. For them it was a reinforcement of what was sacred; it was also a celebration of a good and decent life and a good example for all.
It was evident that this celebration represented our nation’s psyche. It was incredible to be in St Peter’s Basilica, something constructed over many years beginning in about 1506. They only finished decorating it in about 1800. The Australian nation was evident in the piazza, reflecting the colour and tapestry of our nation. As I made my way to St Peter’s Square I passed through a crowd in which I met Catholic priests of Asian descent and heads of business of Italian descent and I was in a delegation made up of politicians of British and Irish descent. We were all celebrating the life of a remarkable lady of Scottish descent.
It made that piece of ground in Italy on that day remarkably Australian. There was a real warmth there. It was not just something particular to Catholicism; it was a celebration of the Christian faith and a celebration of things that are decent, things to be admired, things to be fought for and things to be held on to. It was a celebration of our culture. Mary MacKillop ticked all the boxes of cultural identification under the Australian persona. She worked to bring equality to those on the margins of society. She worked to bring equality to people in one of the most fundamental ways—through education. It was revolutionary that she went to people who were not educated, in a society which at the time did not treasure education as we do know, and started to educate those people and give them a chance for a future.
The late 19th century was a pretty hard environment. This was a lady who worked in the outback in an area dominated by male culture. We heard stories of Mary MacKillop going into pubs to borrow a horse to ride to see people who were sick. Someone going into a corner pub now and asking to borrow a car to drive to see someone who was sick would be a person of exceptional qualities. And this is something that we admire.
Mary MacKillop was actually kicked out of the Catholic Church. That tangle with authority is also something that is quite Australian and unique to us. But Mary MacKillop did not throw teddy in the dirt, as we say. She did not grow to resent authority or walk around carping about the terrible things that had happened to her; she was just resolute in pursuing her cause of what was right.
She worked with the people to bring herself back into the fold and to bring her sisters back into the fold. When she was excommunicated, she was supported by people of the Jewish faith and by strong members of the Anglican community. This goes to show another thing about Australians: we are egalitarian. We work with a whole range of people over a whole range of dimensions. We respect people who try to do things that are good.
People were there to celebrate Mary MacKillop the person, but I think it is also right and appropriate that we acknowledge the spiritual dimension and that we do not shy away in Australia from the spiritual dimension that is in all of us. There is a sense in Australia at times that we get a little bit embarrassed when the spiritual side of life is mentioned. It can make us uncomfortable and open to ridicule from our peers. But I think there is nothing wrong in talking about the spiritual or about Mary MacKillop’s effect on us in a spiritual way.
There has been discussion of miracles. I believe in miracles; others do not. That does not detract from who Mary MacKillop was. Every time I see the sun rise, every time I see the colour around us and every time I see the dynamism of the personalities around us and the goodness in other people, I see a form of miracle. When we see miracles which we do not quite understand we become cynical, and maybe we should not.
Mary’s work goes far beyond the miracles that have been attributed to her. I see a miracle when I see the little school in Quilpie which, if she had not existed, would not exist. I see a miracle in our local school which was formed by the Josephite nuns. My wife also went to school in a Joey’s school. I find it a miracle that I actually used to send them back the homework they sent me when I was doing school by correspondence. These ladies were extremely decent people.
When I saw the Sisters of St Joseph over in Rome they reminded me a lot of a favourite auntie at a family function, so clearly identifiable as Australians were they. My poor wife was told to go over there and that because she was at the Vatican she was to wear black, and she did—everything she had was black. But among those nuns she was the only one in black; they turned up wearing all colours. They are just easygoing people who work with their communities, and they were such a great representation of who we are.
I make special mention of Sister Mary Casey, who was the postulator responsible for progressing the case for Mary’s canonisation, and also Sister Anne Derwin. I also make special mention of Cardinal Pell, who supported the process. It was a great day for Australia. It is great to think that our first saint is a woman when the first saints of so many other nations—in fact, of virtually all of them—were blokes. This is another example of Australia’s always breaking the mould.
For me, Mary’s miracles and the way she affects our nation will go on. I think there was a real sense of pride throughout our nation in what was achieved by the canonisation. The person who may become our second saint was also a sister of St Joseph. Unfortunately, she was martyred in South America. She was a lady from Western Australia who was shot by the Shining Path guerrillas for standing up for the people around her. This gives you a sense of what Australia does in its own way that is so good. It also gives you a sense of how the Australian tapestry is always growing—that we have many things to be proud of and to reflect on as a country, and they are always increasing. It was a great honour to be sent by this parliament to celebrate the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. I thank the Australian people for the honour of being sent over to Rome to represent them, and I hope that in a small way the grace given us by having a saint of our own will be reflected in the way we all act.
We should bear in mind that we all have the fortitude, although we might be a bit embarrassed at times, to look to the margins at those who are less fortunate than us and help them out as Mary MacKillop did. We, as Mary did, have the capacity to walk into the pub and ask for the loan of the horse to ride through the night to the person who we know is sick. If that sort of courage is reflected in our lives in some way, then this will be a better country. If we ever get down or get kicked around by authority, we have the capacity not to get resentful but instead to work as Mary did in a constructive way to try to bring about a resolution and pursue the course of what is good, right and just. We have the capacity, as Mary did, to work with people of other faiths or no faith to do what is right and not to be offensive to people of other faiths but to be happy to live in harmony and do what we think is right while living in a close and humble relationship with our God.