Easter Mass attendance up but Engadine priest yearns for lasting increase

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It was with a bittersweet sense of longing that Fr Mick Court SDB welcomed hundreds of unfamiliar faces into the church of St John Bosco, Engadine, throughout Holy Week.

While the priest embraces the presence of ‘Easter Catholics’, he yearns to see them return to the faith – and the pew – permanently.

“I’m grateful they’re there, but my longing would be that they were able to be there all the time,” he said.

With each Easter liturgy, he hoped visitors to the parish would “be called to come back”.

The busy Holy Week schedule for the parishes of Engadine and Heathcote included the Second Rite of Reconciliation, Palm Sunday Mass, an Easter liturgy for students of St John Bosco College, Mass with Anointing of the Sick for residents of John Paul Village, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, the popular Engadine Passion play, Vigil Mass, and five Easter Sunday Masses.

For Fr Mick, as with any priest, the endless demands of the week must be balanced by spiritual preparation and devotion.

His technique for staying centred throughout Holy Week is simple: “Making sure I pray. Making sure I have a strong foundation in my own personal prayer life.”

Without that, “it’s like a spiral, you just get spun out”, he said.

“If I can pray, if I can stay centred in Jesus through prayer, then things happen but I stay focused. It is demanding, but it’s ok.”

Fr Mick said it was important that the message of prayer, of staying focused on the spiritual significance of Holy Week, was shared by the entire parish team.

“My youth minister [Matthew Humphreys] is very strong on that, too.

“As a priest, before I start any service I always gather all the ministers and we’ll say a special prayer together, just trying to connect with God and helping that spirit to shine through our ministry.”

Among more than a dozen Holy Week events, Fr Mick said the event he most anticipated – and was most spiritually refreshed by – the Easter Vigil.

“Everything culminates in the Vigil, and everything flows from there, our faith flows out of that,” he said.

He praised the parish’s Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday liturgies, each of which was “a step in the journey”, he said.

“I often talk about how it is a journey, not an event.

“That applies to the sacraments and also to Easter; Easter is a journey, with Jesus.”

While the Easter Vigil was the highlight for Fr Mick, he acknowledged the community’s strong support for the annual Passion play, which brought parishioners together with students of St John Bosco College.

“The Passion play gets a huge crowd, because the youth are in it,” he said, “and they do such a beautiful job.

“Each year a different youth takes on that responsibility; they write it, and they come at the Passion of Jesus from a lot of different angles. It’s a powerful portrayal, full of creativity.”

Edward Noack took on the weighty role of Jesus in this year’s production, which was directed by James McMahon.

“For me, playing Jesus was an incredible way to connect to the mystery of Easter and to even get a small sense of what Christ would have gone through,” Edward said.

“Practising and rehearsing all throughout Lent was a great way to prepare for Easter, and I think everyone involved got a lot out of our presentation.”