Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Year of activism #39

It is October 4th – feast day of St Francis and day to celebrate creation and all the creatures. It is the only day on the calendar I am 100% sure which saint it belongs too. There are more words and images of Francis in the western world than the founder of his strand of spirituality. His radical transformative lifestyle changed his little town and generations who followed, and continued to our time when the latest incarnation of the role of Bishop of Rome sent a definitive message to the faithful and non-believers alike in choosing the name Francis for his papacy. At the time one of my favourite liberation theologians, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff (also a Franciscan monk who had been kicked out by the previous administration) was welcomed back and remarked on the choice of the Argentinian of Francis – was not choosing a name but an agenda. The agenda was around simplicity, creation and care of the earth and a call to disrupting the institutional power. I had high hopes and there were early signs, and I remain encouraged, although long for more. This ancient global institution pivoting to these times, feels more like a shipwreck laden with barnacles where only time and/ or a tsunami might bring new life. Francis is releasing a new encyclical today on friendship. I am going to be interested in reading it. His last one (Laudato Si) was a powerful instruction on how to care for the earth and all that required personally and politically, and poignantly to go back to the basics and ‘rebuild the church’. Such a shame for the patriarchy and language and colonisation that much of the good gets washed away by the clumsy and lack of restitution the church, to say nothing of all the apologies to first nations, women and LGBTIQ+ . Francis of Assisi turned the tables and publicly admonished power, privilege and embraced simplicity, had a beautiful relationship with Clare of Assisi and together they offered an alternative lifestyle of poverty, service, stewardship and speaking truth that inspired generations. In their part of Italy, Clare attracted more women to her community, than men were able to attract to be their wives – it was very disruptive – and turned the tables on the economics of the region.

Francis was my father’s middle name as he was born Oct 3 and would have been 84 this year. I sang Donovan‘s version of Francis’ Canticle of Creation at his funeral and while he wasn’t a believer, he did love all of creation and respected his roots and traditions. The opening lines of this poem are: Brother Sun and Sister Moon, indicative of the close relationship Francis had with all of creation. From the most ancient of astrological surveys it is the Sun who rules as masculine energy the Moon as feminine. It is this deep friendship with the earth and the sky that has guided our species and all the instruction we need remains available to us should we look to the skies and look to what lies below our feet.

The cry of the earth for rehabilitation and decolonisation, is a lamentation, an ache. As her sisters and brothers we are being called to care for our Sister, our Mother, the earth. There is a strong trajectory in all world religions for care for the earth, simplicity and ecological justice. In my own tradition, it is often to Francis and Clare that I look, but they are not alone and throughout history and all around the world in communities in mountains, deserts, cities and slums individuals have risen up as lone nuts and founded movements, some of which have become institutionalised, and others that flowered for a single season, but it is the deep thread we can all pull on as activists and remind ourselves of our lineage and humbly make the use of this time we have to make our contribution. I think that is the message for me on this Feast of St Francis to take instruction from the sun and the moon, to recalibrate and set a course by the stars to take me back to my roots and to deeply listen to the land, its original custodians.

John O’Donohue says “friendship is an act of recognition” and maybe that is part of the pilgrim way, to recognise ourselves and familial relationships in the landscape and have the landscape invite us to see that in ourselves. Imagine if we could recognise the beauty around us in the heavens and on the horizon and know, really know, we are both custodians and reflections of this beauty. Nature is the pause and refresh button as well as the plug in and play for so many activists and this day is as good as any to celebrate all of creation and enter into more friendship and intimacy.

Arriving in Assisi to a rainbow, June 2013

Year of Activism #3

January 26 is a day Australia sets aside as a public holiday to mark the invasion of the British onto the east coast by rogue Captain who didn’t follow orders and make a treaty or alliance with any locals he encountered. Like all colonial acts, lies and miscommunications, failures in the authorisation processes lead to damage of the land, people and all species.

I grew up under the Southern Cross and always feel disorientated when I can’t see her in the skies when I travel outside my celestial canopy. I can’t imagine the awe and wonder of arriving to this land and seeing for the first time so many strange and awesome sights. What began in the name of science, set a trajectory of death and survival.

Today I want to acknowledge the men and women who have taught me and been willing to forgive my ancestry and apprecenticed me into more understanding and invited me into ways forward both together and apart. People like the late Sonny Flynn, Bruce Hammond, Rosemary Wanganeen and the writers, poets and leaders I don’t know personally but who have shaped and influenced me such as Stan Grant, Anita Heiss, Bruce Pascoe, sporting stars like Nicky Winmar and Adam Goodes and all the people along the way who have come into my life and offered up their knowledge and guidance so generously to support my learning and correct misunderstandings.

I got quite active in the movement first during 1988 – the bicentennial of Capt Arthur Philip’s arrival into Botany Bay with what is known as the First Fleet. I participated in all kinds of events, learnings and actions. When I was a member of the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, I wrote a ten point plan of action which included things like having the Aboriginal flag fly at the Cathedral (and for the record it still does).

I am struck at this moment, about how much I have to learn about the land. Having moved to a new place I am very conscious of how nude it is. There is almost no habitat for birds and bugs and that is my first priority. What belongs here and how can planting and be healing and restorative will help heal and restore me too. The inextricable bond between land and people is so familiar to indigenous people who have not been severed from their connection and I am yearning to get more connected. I have an inkling this is at the heart of what is needed to help us take the steps we need to take to protect our species and be able to live on this planet. It is time for us to care for the earth.

In theological terms we are shifting from stewardship to care. We have to give up the lording over and having dominion mind sets and behaviours to be in collaboration, partnership, tender care for our home. The evangelical call is clear from the voices of young ones through the ancient cloisters of the Vatican – even the same family who sent Cook and Phillip to our shores is divesting from fossil fuels!

Colonisation and racism and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Brown and black lives matter – they are the ones who have lost their forests first, their food bowls; they are the first climate refugees and we know they have already paid the price in disease and death of their ancestors as extraction and exploitation spread like wildfire as land, oil, gas, minerals were pillaged throughout the ages. It has been universal and Australia has had its dreadful moments. For me one such moment was in 1997 when Prime Minister John Howard, going against a High Court decision came up with a ten point plan of his own to correct (in his words) : The fact is that the Wik decision pushed the pendulum too far in the Aboriginal direction. The 10 point plan will return the pendulum to the centre. The plan included an adjustment that would impact on mining, land, air and water resources. While there have been many legislative and public policy moments in Australia, this one still stands out to me as one of the best examples of how authority was misused, the courts dis-respected and colonisation, racism and environmental injustice perpetuated.

I am heartened by the growing number of people in our land who commemorate rather than celebrate this day, who mark the occasion with reflection on who we are and who we are becoming as a country, who take the time to wonder what will it take to find just settlement, who explore what restitution and healing is even possible. To be active in these times, requires all kinds of help and calling on the Divine won’t hurt either. Even the great coloniser’s of the past are returning to their roots to their essence of fidelity to our only home. It’s not a bad place to start on this day to incant a prayer for our planet and our times where we are in so in awe of the land we are impatient to care for her and in doing so reach our human potential – which I can’t see is possible without the decolonisation we all have to do inside and out.

A prayer from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.


Restoration and Refugees

The steps to the Cathedral in the city are made of slate from the village where I live. At the moment the Cathedral is under renovation. Francis is blowing a gale through the Vatican and all the restoration on the Cathedral will repair the damage done. The chair of this Bishop of Rome is made of something less brittle than slate. It’s a kind of leadership that many have been yearning for, a hark back to the founder of the firm, not an echo from the silence of stone in the empty chambers where pilgrims once filled the pews. Like so many of our institutions, the church is renovating and restoring, and that is not the answer to whatever question they think they are asking. Now is the time to stop conserving heritage listed spaces in our hearts and break open in true Eucharistic fashion the body and blood and spill it onto all the spaces empty of body and soul.   And heaven knows there are so many of those.

The tragedy of people displaced by war, persecution, natural disasters is alarming. In my country the borders of the land are almost as impenetrable as our hearts. Fear and compassion traded blows in the streets of Melbourne yesterday. (I did wonder if anyone from Francis’ team was there – I am sure there would have been a few.) As a young mum I campaigned in the 80s and then into the 90s on issues of refugees and racism. For my efforts, our house was attacked with bricks through the windows of our sleeping children’s home, graffiti on the outside walls of the house, tyres on our car damaged and public vilification and intimidation by a right wing terrorist group. Our phone was tapped and from time to time I am pretty sure I was followed. Acting in solidarity has a price. My efforts were very modest, writing, producing materials and building a community of activists to spread the word in their workplaces, churches, schools and families. I didn’t organise any big rallies and it was long before social media so no flash mob protests were visible. I was under the protection of the Council of Churches and I felt protected by their care for me and for my family. This is the work of communion.

The UN says we have reached 60M people displaced for the first time in history. When I was campaigning it was 15M – the last time it was even close to the number we have now was during the Second World War.

Disrupting traffic is not enough, thoughts and behaviours need to be disrupted. The slate on the Cathedral steps are baying for a new dawn of whole heartedness. My own efforts are almost invisible these days.  I am shaken not stirred by the deaths in Austria in the back of a van, the scenes of children on their parents shoulders at the borders of Greece, the broken bones floating in the seas of the Mediterranean and off our Australian coast …. And the list goes on …

Blessed are you who have a home

               For you shall be invited to open your doors

Blessed are you who have food

               For you shall add another seat to your table

Blessed are you who are safe

                For you shall share your haven

Blessed are you who are leaders

                For you shall serve

Blessed are you who know how to speak to power

               For you shall speak for the powerless

Blessed are you who are fearless

              For you shall give courage to others.

Spring Love

The heady scented blend of freesias, jasmine and native frangipani are inhaled and fill me with confidence that the season of spring is here. The buds on the Geraldton wax are synchronising with the roses and coming into fullness as a duet. It is however the grevilleas that support the bees and honey eaters to fill their hives and nests and bring the promise of new life, that ground me in this season of spring.

The vineyards that I see every day are beginning to green, just as the baby birds are feathering up.  It is no wonder that spring and love inspire poets, writers, composers, artists – spring and love were made for each other.

In the beautiful new collection of Australian Love Poems 2013 there is a haiku from one of Australia’s greatest living poets and lyricists, Paul Kelly writes:

Time is elastic

Together, days disappear

Apart, seconds crawl.

Distilled in new words, the essence of the longing of separation and the eternity of union is the duet of spring and love. I can’t really imagine one without the other – the blossom,  the expectation, the sanctity.

Keeping yourself in springtime and in love is knowing that the seasons all give way to one another in a virtuous cycle. It is one of the reasons I have loved living near vineyards, which I have fortunately been able it do most if my life. The seasons unfold and remind me of all the lessons of life – pruning, renewal, harvest, rest, new beginnings from old growth.

The attraction of spring can also mask the reason it is here – to herald a new era and to let the old season pass. It is seductive to want to be in springtime all the time … and it is not possible.  What is possible is to know that spring comes and love comes back to life even when it might have looked dead.

I am constantly falling in love, with new ideas, new stories, old stories, new people, people who have been with me for a long time and each time spring turns up I fall in love with spring too.  I sprout some new shoots, or birth a new part of my being, or breath in deeper to inhale the new fruits take  shape.

As I enjoy the spring, my God is getting bigger and there is more than enough room in the nest for everyone.

The seeds sown in the dark, are all finding their way to greet the light on the surface and are dancing now as new life in the sunshine and being soaked every now and again by the heavy seasonal showers.  I have even been kept awake by this full moon, insisting I remain vigilant to springtime and love.

The Canticle of the Sun by Francis of Assisi must have been written for this time and it is with great joy that I too can proclaim:  “so much in love with all that I survey” this spring.  His namesake in Rome is announcing spring; just as clearly as the magpie does; and like the maggie, is swooping down from the nest to remind us that spring is here and it is time to protect all that we love that is in the nest. Morality anxiety must give way to Big Love.

My favourite blessing to sing is the Long Time Sun Song and I offer it to all you who are reading this blog so that you too might have your spring enriched.

2013-09-16 15.51.58

First Day at the Office

I wonder how Pope Francis is spending his first day in his new office?

Will he have tax forms to complete, a National Police Check  to be submitted, authorisation for his bank to be filed?  I wonder if he will call home and check that all is well or get a text from a friend and a Facebook message from a younger niece or a tweet from his peeps in Argentina?

He won’t need a seniors card or a bus pass or a disability car park or show his union credentials to anyone. He won’t pop his lunch in the fridge or have to turn off the urn if it over flows, or keep an eye out for the courier. He won’t need to find someone to show him where the toilets are, or where the stationery cupboard is or to check that his payslip is correct.  He probably won’t need to learn how to access his email off-line while out of the office or need a new email address or learn another password to access the server.

In these days of 140 characters to communicate a clear message, I am truly impressed with the genius of this Argentinian who with just 7 characters has firmly, clearly and loaded with meaning, told the world, who he is and what he is all about: Francis.

What a statement and a powerful way to brand himself on his first day on the job. What fun it would be if we could all take a name when we take on a new job – what would yours be?  As he was leaving the Cardinals after a festive supper, and after thanking them,  he said “may God forgive you [for what you have done]”. I rather like this touch of connecting the collective to the individual and the underwriting of what has been a process of discernment and selection.  He is a man of science with a chemistry degree and also a MBA so he must know something about business as well. Anyone who survived the wicked years of the Pinochet years and with all that Jesuit training he obviously knows about governing and how to talk and think his way through problems too. I think Hildegard would be happy with the choice. She could share potions, politics and prayer with him and I bet she is sending some of her wisdom his way.

I am hoping, in Francis’s first few days in the his new job, that he will tap into the wise ones like Hildegard and Francis and remember that they are accessible to him as he gets to work.  I am hoping he will embrace the prophetic way and recognise himself as a shoot flooded in light.  As I too have new days in new offices I am embracing the image of the prophet and if I could choose a name to inspire me and to send a clear message it would be Hildegard.

“Who are the prophets? They are a royal people, who penetrate mystery and see with the spirit’s eyes.

In illuminating darkness they speak out.

They are living, penetrating clarity.

They are a blossom blooming only on the shoot that is rooted in the flood of light.” Hildegard

Pope Francis