The Catholic Weekly https://www.catholicweekly.com.au The Church. All of it. Mon, 10 Dec 2018 06:56:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 An early Christmas for seafarers in Sydney https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/an-early-christmas-for-seafarers-in-sydney/ Mon, 10 Dec 2018 02:17:33 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16723 Seafarers on three ships docked at Port Botany received some early Christmas cheer from the Apostleship of the Sea ministry.

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Roslyn Rajasingam
Apostleship of the Sea National Director Roslyn Rajasingam.

Seafarers on three ships docked at Port Botany received some early Christmas cheer as part of a planned visit from the Apostleship of the Sea ministry.

Roslyn Rajasingam, Apostleship of the Sea Australia’s national director, visited the ships along with Barry Cleary, a retired ship engineer and a volunteer ship visitor for AoS for the past five years in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Ms Rajasingam said climbing on board the three ships was a special experience for her and was a wonderful highlight of her first year as national director of the AoS.

While on board, the pair distributed Christmas gift packs to seafarers, made possible by donations from businesses and organisations that support the chaplaincy services by AoS through its network of volunteer ship visitors, chaplains and Stella Maris Centres.

Ms Rajasingam said the seafarers greatly appreciated the visit and gift packs because their work is often very isolating, with some seafarers not seeing friends or family for eight months at a time.

“The first ship was a cargo ship manned by 17 Filipinos and four Eastern Europeans. We had morning tea there. The chef, Mario, toured me around the kitchen and their stores/fridges,” Ms Rajasingam said.

“The second ship was carrying chemicals and was manned wholly by Indians. We had Indian lunch there with a young seaman, Amar. The seafarers were very friendly.

“The third one was an oil tanker, again manned by Indians. We had coffee and juice there. It was their change of shift, so everyone was pretty busy.”

“What an eye-opening experience it was!”

With about one million seafarers on the world’s oceans at any time and 90 per cent of Australia’s trade reliant on shipping, Australia’s ports are key points to offer ministry and pastoral care.

Seafarers are confronted with very real threats and dangers to their lives and can suffer from high rates of suicide, depression and self-harm. Some common issues affecting seafarers include: exposure to piracy and criminal activity; poor working conditions; and isolation and distance from family while at sea.

The AoS cares for the spiritual, social and material welfare of all seafarers, whether they be on merchant, passenger, war or fishing vessels. The Church has always been interested in seafarers since Christ first gathered his fishermen-disciples around him, but the modern movement began in the 1890s.

For more information about the work of the AoS, go to: http://www.aos-australia.org/

This story was originally published on the ACBC Media Blog.

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PHOTO—Ros—cropped Apostleship of the Sea National Director Roslyn Rajasingam.
Vatican unveils Sand Nativity https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/vatican-unveils-sand-nativity/ Sun, 09 Dec 2018 23:02:40 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16719 The annual unveiling of the Vatican's Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people's hearts.

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Sand Nativity
The Christmas tree and ‘Sand Nativity’ are seen after a tree-lighting ceremony in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 7 December. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

The annual unveiling of the Vatican’s Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people’s hearts as winter approached.

Hundreds of people in St Peter’s Square on 7 December applauded as white curtains unfurled, revealing a 52-foot wide artistic representation of Jesus’ birth made entirely of sand and dubbed the ‘Sand Nativity’.

The bas-relief sculpture, which weighed over 700 tons, was made with sand from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 40 miles north of Venice.

Shortly after, as the sun set behind St Peter’s Basilica, the sounds of Silent Night filled the square before the lights of the Vatican’s towering Christmas tree were lit.

The 42-foot-tall red spruce tree, donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, was unveiled at the Vatican’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

Among those present at the annual Christmas tree lighting were Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, patriarch of Venice; and Bishop Giuseppe Pellegrini of Concordia-Pordenone.

The ‘Sand Nativity’ scene and tree will remain in St Peter’s Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on 13 January.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, responsible respectively for the 2018 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

Thanking the delegations for their gifts, the Pope said the Nativity scene and Christmas tree are visible signs that “help us to contemplate the mystery of God, who was made man in order to be close to us”.

The bright lights emanating from the Christmas tree, he explained, “remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives out the darkness of enmity and makes room for forgiveness”.

The soaring height of the Christmas tree, he added, also symbolises “God who — through the birth of his son, Jesus — came down to man to raise him to himself and elevate him from the fog of selfishness and sin.”

Pope Francis also reflected on the unique composition of the Nativity scene. Sand, he said, is a poor material that “recalls the simplicity, the littleness and frailty with which God show himself through the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem”.

“The child Jesus, Son of God and our Savior, whom we lay in the manger, is holy in poverty, littleness, simplicity and humility,” the Pope said.

“By contemplating the God-child who emanates light in the humility of the manger, we, too, can become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness.”

Kicking off preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ was special exhibition in the morning of over 100 different Nativity scenes at the Vatican. The event, now in its 43rd edition, was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation.

Dubbed ‘100 Cribs at the Vatican’, the 7 December-13 January exhibition featured a wide variety of artistic representations depicting Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

In a statement promoting the event, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the pontifical council, said the exhibition of different Nativity scenes — a tradition credited to St Francis of Assisi — was “a strong instrument of evangelisation”.

“So many people stop every Christmas before the mystery of God made man, represented with figurines — which in many cases are authentic masterpieces of art — to pray, to reflect and to discover the love of God who became a child for us.”

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201812_CNS-CHRISTMAS-NATIVITY-TREE_850 The Christmas tree and 'Sand Nativity' are seen after a tree-lighting ceremony in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on 7 December. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring
Students farewell principal Br Harsas https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/students-farewell-principal-br-harsas/ Sat, 08 Dec 2018 04:20:41 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16704 After 11 years of serving thousands of families in Fairfield including hundreds of refugees and migrants Br Nicholas Harsas is saying goodbye.

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Brother Nicholas Harsas
Br Nicholas Harsas enjoys the ‘This is Your Life’ presentation by students at a special assembly to thank and farewell him this week. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

After 11 years of serving thousands of families in Fairfield including hundreds of refugees and migrants Patrician Brother Nicholas Harsas is saying goodbye.

Staff and students at Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School farewelled their beloved principal who commences his new appointment leading Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School in Carnes Hill next year.

Students held a fun ‘This is your Life’ assembly on his feast day on 6 December, presenting him with a CD of the school song, photos from the recent 90th anniversary celebration, a book of memories and messages from each grade, plus another book featuring all of his media appearances since he has been the school’s principal.

To help him settle into his new school they also gave him a Holy Spirit school bag and hat, personalised drink bottle, stationery and the canteen menu in case he is ever hungry his new school.

Earlier at a special Mass Brother Harsas was presented with the Archbishop’s Dempsey Medal for his years of devoted service to the western Sydney school.

Br Harsas
Br Harsas tries on the hat given as part of a gift from the students. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“The staff, students and parents have been so supportive of me as principal,” Brother Harsas told The Catholic Weekly.

“It’s been a week of mixed emotions, and quite humbling as people have said wonderful things about me and my ministry over the years.

“I’m sad to leave this wonderful school community which has been a very rich blessing for me.

“But I go feeling very confident that the school is in a wonderful place academically and with a strong Catholic identity, because of the staff, students and the whole school and parish community.”

Brother Harsas said he was also “excited” about taking the helm of another school community “not as a job but as my ministry as a Patrician Brother”.

State Member for Fairfield, Guy Zangari MP, recently paid tribute in the Legislative Assembly to Brother Harsas’ “unwavering” devotion over many years to the local community and support of students and their families at the school where 98 per cent of the students come from a non-English speaking background, and almost 100 refugee students are currently enrolled.

Religious Education Coordinator Anna Sacca said Our Lady of the Rosary is losing an “inspirational leader, mentor and friend” who set high standards for the staff and students.

Br Harsas with Dempsey Medal
Br Harsas with his Dempsey Medal awarded by the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“He is always willing to listen to everyone no matter how busy the day gets,” she said.

“Brother Nicholas has been a helping hand to newly arrived refugee families who have joined our school and made them feel welcomed as part of the Our Lady of the Rosary School Community.

“For this and all Brother Nicholas has done, we are truly grateful.

“We feel very lucky to have had him in our lives and he will be truly missed by all.”

Br Harsas
Br Harsas with his mother, Margaret Harsas, and godson and former student Fabio Lai. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

In his tribute Mr Zangari said that the many former students who choose to enrol their own children in the school “stands as true testament to his devotion and the impact he has on students’ lives”.

“He remains a ‘brother’ to many as a result of his positive impact on so many lives as an outstanding teacher, distinguished principal, and a source of strength and wellbeing for his community,” he said.

As well as the students’ presentation, followed by an afternoon tea with parents, Brother Harsas’ farewell events include a parish Mass last weekend, and next week, a whole school Mass and formal assembly.

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BrNicyourlife_BrNicFarewell_Fok_6-12-18_850 Br Nicholas Harsas enjoys the 'This is Your Life' presentation by students at a special assembly to thank and farewell him this week. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok BrNicHat_BrNicFarewell_Fok_6-12-18_850 Br Harsas tries on the hat given as part of a gift from the students. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok BrNicDempsey_BrNicFarewell_Fok_6-12-18_850 Br Harsas with his Dempsey Medal awarded by the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok BrNicfabiomargaret_BrNicFarewell_Fok_6-12-18_850 Br Harsas with his mother, Margaret Harsas, and godson and former student Fabio Lai. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok
Saving Sydney’s desperate souls https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/saving-sydneys-desperate-souls/ Fri, 07 Dec 2018 01:35:42 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16690 An unassuming elderly gentleman waits patiently in a deserted alleyway of east Sydney, quietly watching the sun slowly rise over the harbour. The early-morning council trucks rumble past collecting piles of garbage, syringes and bottles while a makeshift bed surrounded by food scraps and rubbish lies against a dirty wall covered in graffiti. An odd […]

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A nurse in the clinic checks sugar levels of one of its residents.
A nurse in the clinic checks sugar levels of one of its residents.

An unassuming elderly gentleman waits patiently in a deserted alleyway of east Sydney, quietly watching the sun slowly rise over the harbour.

The early-morning council trucks rumble past collecting piles of garbage, syringes and bottles while a makeshift bed surrounded by food scraps and rubbish lies against a dirty wall covered in graffiti.

An odd demographic, Woolloomooloo is a mix of run-down housing commission properties and exclusive private real estate.

Casually dressed, he buzzes at security and waits for the heavy doors to open.

He enters and goes straight to his post. He is one of the many volunteers who help cover the 400 shifts a week at the Matthew Talbot Hostel.

Marking its 80th anniversary this year, it is one of the most well recognised homeless shelters for men around the Sydney CBD and offers accommodation and support to people who are homeless or at risk of it.

He gets set up for his shift as a barista making coffee for the men before heading to work … as a barrister.

Christopher Maxwell, QC, is the State’s Crown Prosecutor, and has been involved in some of the country’s highest-profile murder cases, yet it’s his time caring for the forgotten that reminds him of what is important.

He has been volunteering in the subsidised canteen for the past five years, a “promotion” from working the floor during the busy breakfast service for 15 years prior to that.

He admits he still gets startled at the start of each shift by the incredible noise the coins make on the metal shutter alerting him the men are in desperate need of their morning heart-starter.

Barista Chris Maxwell serves up a piping hot coffee. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Barista Chris Maxwell serves up a piping hot coffee. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Lollies, chips, toiletries, socks and undies line the kiosk walls … but it’s caffeine they want.
First in line is Mick … pleasantries are unnecessary, Chris knows his order: Six sugars, half a spoon of instant coffee, lots of milk and hot water.

Chris hands the steaming polystyrene cup over and Mick shuffles off without thanks. Chris just smiles and moves to the next customer.

He says the men are connoisseurs when it comes to instant coffee and there is a real art to making it.

“Just because it’s instant doesn’t mean it can’t be good,” he said. “It’s 50 cents a coffee, extra with a marshmallow, so they expect a decent one.”

It is an unlikely place for one of Sydney’s silks; however, he says his time there has taught him some life-long lessons, which have made him a better lawyer.

“I am a much fairer prosecutor, I have a lot more balance in my work,” he said.

“Getting to know these men requires some real Christian compassion, to be more accepting and not judgmental.

“I can now look at life from another side, to turn the other cheek as it were.

“In court I deal with confrontational and skilled opponents and my time at Mat Talbot has taught me to be able to respond in a less aggressive manner.

“Over the years I have met some wonderful people, some of the men I would call my mates. Some have passed away too young and others just disappeared.

“It has made me so much more selfless, I thoroughly enjoy my time at Matt Talbot and hope to continue to do so.”

Barrister: The State’s Crown Prosecutor, Christopher Maxwell, QC, says he is a better lawyer due to his time volunteering at the Matthew Talbot Hostel.
Barrister: The State’s Crown Prosecutor, Christopher Maxwell, QC, says he is a better lawyer due to his time volunteering at the Matthew Talbot Hostel.

Venerable Matthew Talbot, after whom the hostel was named, was an Irishman revered by many for his piety and charity. At the age of 12 he began working as a wine seller and very soon began “sampling their wares”, and considered a hopeless alcoholic by age 13. One evening when he was 28, he went out and found a priest, went to confession and “Took the Pledge” to never touch alcohol again.

Though not formally recognised as a saint, (he is at the first stage of canonisation) he is considered a patron of those struggling with alcoholism.

According to the St Vincent de Paul Society there are about 38,000 homeless people in NSW, with about 329 currently sleeping rough in the CBD every night and about 1000 in the metropolitan area, so demand for shelter is always at a premium.

Men aged over 21 can have a bed for the night, a shower, a hot meal, get their medication, call Centrelink, send or receive mail but possibly one of the most important things is to have an anchoring point.

Being homeless and with nowhere else to go, it’s about as close to a family’s embrace as they’ll get.

Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Terry Brady, who himself discovered his vocation as a 14-year-old volunteer at the hostel, said it is a very unique part of Sydney where people can feel safe and secure at the most vulnerable times of life.

“It is a very special place, and not only for Catholics but the whole city and beyond. People see it as a place of care and welcome for the homeless of the city and those that might need a place to put their heads for the night,” he said.

Transient resident, Peter who has had a number of stays at the hostel.
Transient resident, Peter who has had a number of stays at the hostel.

“It is also a spiritual refuge and a place for at least a window of peace and tranquility.”
Official hours are from 5.30am to 8pm however, it never closes. Nobody in need is turned away, if there’s “no room at the inn” another bed is found in another facility.

The men who sleep rough generally line up first thing to use the bathrooms, have a shower and get a change of clothes before breakfast, which is served from 7.15am.

Volunteers stand ready to assist with serving meals, cleaning up or just lending a listening ear to someone who wants to chat.

Despite the huge numbers, breakfasts are eaten in silence, the clanging of knives and forks the only sounds piercing the relative quiet.

A statue of Mary looks out over the sea of lost faces, seemingly casting a caring eye over society’s forgotten.

Over breakfast, Marcus, an imposing German standing at almost 2 metres, talks about “living” at the shelter for about five months and the events that led to him calling it home.
Married with two small children, his life turned upside down following his young daughter’s diagnosis of leukaemia a few years ago.

“I had the perfect life, a house, two cars, two jobs and was happy,” he said.

Matthew Talbot resident, Marcus who has been "living" at the hostel for 6 months. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Matthew Talbot resident, Marcus who has been “living” at the hostel for 6 months. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“Then my daughter got sick, which put a lot of stress on my family. I had to quit my jobs to be with her and the medical bills started adding up.

“We were getting quite desperate, I stole money and pretty much that was the beginning of the end for me. It wasn’t a lot of money but enough to get me in trouble.

“I’m not proud of what I’ve done and given the chance of course I would do it all differently, but I can’t.

“I split with my wife and was couch surfing and living on the streets. While waiting for the courts to deal with me, I had a heart attack and couldn’t afford any medical treatment. My doctor suggested I come to Matt Talbot as I would receive medical care as well as have somewhere to stay.

“That was almost six months ago, and I’m still here.

“The people at Matt Talbot rock, they have provided me with what I need physically, now it’s up to me to sort myself out mentally and get my life back on track.

“Thank God Matt Talbot is here, I don’t know where I’d be without it.” The shelter provides 98 beds and 620 meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – but it is much more than the basics. It’s a community for those living on the margins.

Men have the option of attending the Ozanam Learning Centre, which aims to break the cycle of homelessness by supporting people to achieve their personal goals.

A resident takes advantage of computer classes at the Ozanam Learning Centre.
A resident takes advantage of computer classes at the Ozanam Learning Centre.

A computer room teaches basic skills and a professional music studio is aimed at helping release inner trauma amid beautiful sounds. An industrial kitchen teaches cooking, nutrition and meal planning and provides an important opportunity for people who have become isolated to break bread as a family.

A hairdressing ‘salon’ – cleverly crafted out of an underused cleaning room – offers the luxury of a cut, wash and blow dry run by a local hairdresser who donates time to give back some dignity

It also has one of Australia’s last surviving medical clinics staffed by nurses and offers treatment for a variety of ailments common among the homeless including diabetes, epilepsy, addiction issues, malnutrition, lung and heart disease.

Accommodation manager Susan Chillingworth said nobody chooses to be homeless. She said their role was to build relationships with the men and keep them engaged and cared for.

“Homelessness can be due to mental health issues, addiction or trauma sustained as a child which can and does last a lifetime.” she said.

“There are no surprises here, we’ve seen and dealt with it all.

“We see the absolute bottom of the pile but then we also see some of humanities best.

“Nobody wants to be here, but for the ones that are we try to make it as pleasant as possible. “These men deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and know they will be treated as equals.” Mother Teresa believed that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable. She would be very pleased.

*A Mass to mark Matthew Talbot’s 80th anniversary will be held at St Patrick’s Church Hill on Thursday, 13 December at 10.30am.

All are welcome.

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Matt_04 A nurse in the clinic checks sugar levels of one of its residents. Matt_02 Barista Chris Maxwell serves up a piping hot coffee. Photo: Giovanni Portelli Matt_03 Barrister: The State’s Crown Prosecutor, Christopher Maxwell, QC, says he is a better lawyer due to his time volunteering at the Matthew Talbot Hostel. Matt_08 Transient resident, Peter who has had a number of stays at the hostel. Matt_06 Matthew Talbot resident, Marcus who has been "living" at the hostel for 6 months. Photo: Giovanni Portelli Matt_07 A resident takes advantage of computer classes at the Ozanam Learning Centre.
Archbishop Wilson’s conviction overturned https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/archbishop-wilsons-conviction-overturned/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 23:27:22 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16636 Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson has had his conviction for concealing child sexual abuse overturned. Judge Roy Ellis said Archbishop Wilson was an honest and consistent witness and that there were inconsistencies in the evidence given by the alleged victim. The 68 year-old Archbishop had been convicted in May this year by the Newcastle Local […]

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Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson.

Former Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson has had his conviction for concealing child sexual abuse overturned.

Judge Roy Ellis said Archbishop Wilson was an honest and consistent witness and that there were inconsistencies in the evidence given by the alleged victim.

The 68 year-old Archbishop had been convicted in May this year by the Newcastle Local Court for concealing abuse committed by a priest in the Hunter Valley in the 1970s.

He was sentenced to six months home detention.

In quashing the conviction Judge Ellis said of Fr Wilson, “There were very honest features of his evidence to provide a strong platform for him to be an honest witness.”

“He did not attempt to blacken the name of Peter Creigh and allege he was a liar.

“He was clearly an intelligent and articulate witness.”

Archbishop Wilson appeared via video link for the decision. He did not appear in person in order to avoid a “media scrum”.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide welcomed the court’s decision bringing to conclusion “a process that has been long and painful for all concerned.”

“We now need to consider the ramifications of this outcome,” the statement said.

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Pope to make historic visit to the UAE https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/pope-to-make-historic-visit-to-the-uae/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 22:24:37 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16633 Pope Francis will visit the United Arab Emirates next year, becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula.

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Pope Francis
Pope Francis is pictured as he leaves his general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican 21 November. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Pope Francis will visit the United Arab Emirates next year, becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the Vatican announced.

In a 6 December statement, the Vatican said the Pope will “participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on ‘Human Fraternity'” after receiving an invitation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

“The visit will take place also in response to the invitation of the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates,” the Vatican said.

The trip from 3-5 February will take place less than a week after Pope Francis returns from his 23-28 January visit to Panama for World Youth Day.

Shortly after the announcement, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, welcomed the announcement of the Pope’s visit in a post on his personal Facebook page.

The visit, he said, “will strengthen our ties and understanding of each other, enhance interfaith dialogue and help us to work together to maintain and build peace among the nations of the world”.

In a message published on the visit’s official website, Swiss Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, expressed his hope that the Pope’s “short visit will be a moment of deepening our faith and our adherence to the bishop of Rome”.

Although a detailed program of the pope’s schedule “will be published before Christmas,” Bishop Hinder confirmed that Pope Francis will celebrate a public Mass in Abu Dhabi on 5 February and that arrangements are being made to allow as many faithful as possible “to participate in this historic event.”

“Let us keep in mind that it will be the first visit of a pope to the Arabian Peninsula,” the bishop said.

The Vatican also released the logo and the theme of the papal visit, “Make me a channel of your peace,” which is inspired by St Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace.

The theme, the Vatican statement said, “expresses our own prayer that the visit of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates may spread in a special way the peace of God within the hearts of all people of goodwill.”

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, said the theme was also a fitting description of the purpose of the Pope’s visit, which will focus on “how all people of goodwill can work for peace.”

“This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue,” Burke said. “Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter.”

Gabriel Said Reynolds, professor of Islamic studies and theology at Notre Dame University, said the trip is a sign of Pope Francis’ “profound personal commitment to inter-religious dialogue.”

The trip to Abu Dhabi, he said, also “shows his appreciation for the increasing openness there to the religious freedom of non-Muslims, as witnessed by the presence of two Catholic churches in the Emirate.”

Reynolds said the visit could “also raise the visibility of the problematic situation for religious freedom in neighbouring Saudi Arabia”.

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20181121T0738-2512-CNS-POPE-AUDIENCE-COMMANDMENTS-COVET850 Pope Francis is pictured as he leaves his general audience in St Peter's Square at the Vatican 21 November. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring
Mark Shea: John the Baptiser https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/mark-shea-john-the-baptiser/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 21:00:00 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16278 This is Part 2 of Mark’s series for Advent of St John the Baptist. Click here for Part 1. John the Baptist baptised. That is the core fact we know about him. Aside from the occasional painting of his head on a platter, every piece of artwork we have shows him baptising people. This is […]

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The Baptism of Christ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1655. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Baptism of Christ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1655. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This is Part 2 of Mark’s series for Advent of St John the Baptist. Click here for Part 1.

John the Baptist baptised. That is the core fact we know about him. Aside from the occasional painting of his head on a platter, every piece of artwork we have shows him baptising people. This is one of the curious features of the sparseness of both the biblical narrative and of religious iconography. Later figures will be shown in a more 3D way. We will see Abraham Lincoln not simply giving the Gettysburg Address in every image, but playing with his kids, splitting rails, telling bawdy jokes and fighting with his cabinet. But biblical figures like John are reduced down to the distilled essence of their mission. John baptised. He exists in our minds, forever standing at the banks of Jordan, pouring water on sinners, exhorting them to repent, and announcing that there is One coming after him whose sandals he is not worthy to untie, who will baptise, not with water, but with the Spirit and fire.

Indeed, baptism is so identified with his John’s mission that some people wonder if John invented baptism.

He did not.

John was a Jew. Jews had practiced ritual ablutions for ages before John came along. The Old Testament had a long tradition of associating ritual impurities with sin. It is what I call the “Ick Factor”. All cultures have an Ick Factor, including ours. If you don’t believe me, try sitting down to a nice bowl of squirming larvae for dinner. Different cultures find different things to be icky, but all cultures find something icky and most cultures find much of the same things icky.

Jewish culture was no different and so practiced mikveh or ritual ablutions for purification from things like contact with blood, semen, menstruation, skin infections, or dead bodies (among other things). And given the intensely sacralized imagination of the Old Testament authors, ritual impurity was easily transmuted into an image of moral and spiritual impurity. Just as icky things could lead to diseases that spread, rot, defile, and kill, so too sin could do the same thing to the soul. So Jewish culture wound up enshrining a habit of washings and ablutions that were both pious acts and, by good Providence, excellent hygiene as well.

John the Baptist took this pious custom from Jewish culture and, if you will, re-purposed it.  The washing he offered was, as Scripture describes it a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). This was not a washing that aimed to purify the body of ritual defilement but was, instead, a sign of a conscience seeking cleansing. It was not, by the way, sacramental baptism either. John is, recall, a sort of hinge figure in the passage from the Old Covenant to the New. Sacramental baptism, which actually has the power to cleanse from sin, was only established with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In John’s day, his baptism was, like the rest of his ministry, a foreshadow of the sacrament, not the sacrament itself.

The interesting thing is that John inspired imitators. This is alluded to by the Gospel of John the Evangelist in a sort of haphazard way when he notes that both Andrew and he were John’s disciples before John referred them to Jesus (John 1:35-37) and that “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptised” (John 3:22). The Evangelist then clarifies further that “Jesus was making and baptising more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptise, but only his disciples)” (John 4:1-2).

Preaching of St John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio, between 1486 and 1490. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Preaching of St John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio, between 1486 and 1490. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The picture that emerges is that of John the Baptist’s disciples first taking up his work of baptism and then, as they turned to follow Jesus, taking that custom with them and baptising Jesus’ followers with the baptism of John and calling them to repentance as John had done.  Given that Jesus’ initial proclamation was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near!” (Matthew 3:2) this is entirely understandable. Indeed, for many of John’s disciples, it was difficult to distinguish between John’s message and that of Jesus.  In fact, a cult grew up around John the Baptist that regarded him, not Jesus, as the main event.  So Acts 19 tells us:

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all. (Acts 19:1-7)

John the Evangelist, also writing for the community at Ephesus decades after Paul’s encounter with this group, will still have to confront the challenge of this sect that gives John the Baptist primacy over Jesus. That’s why his gospel will repeatedly hammer away at the fact that John the Baptist “came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light” (John 1:7-8), that “He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (John 1:20), that he urged his disciples to follow Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:29-34), and that he insisted, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30).

The point is that John is no mere moral reformer to be followed for his own sake. He and Jesus both call us to repentance because the kingdom of heaven is near.  But John speaks as the herald of the king while Jesus speaks as the king himself.

And that brings us to one of the most awkward facts about the gospel: the baptism of Jesus. It’s one of the stories in the gospels that demonstrates the honesty of the evangelists since the obvious question that arises is “Why would the sinless Son of God need to be baptized for repentance and the forgiveness of sins?” It practically begs to be read as many modernists do read it: a sort of tale from the early days of the merely human Jesus who, like every other sinner, needed forgiveness and sought it from John. It’s the kind of thing that critics of Christianity immediately gravitate towards in order to “prove” that Jesus was merely a human rabbi whose followers then elevated him to a god later on.

The Baptism of Christ by Antoine Coypel, circa 1690. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Baptism of Christ by Antoine Coypel, circa 1690. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, those followers are all careful to include this story instead of do what dishonest people do and just scissor it out of the gospels? Why?

The baptism narrative tells us why:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and behold, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Jesus does not come to John to repent his sins since he has no sins to repent. He come to John to identify himself with the whole sinful human race and bear our sins. His baptism is the foreshadow of the death Jesus will undergo for us. As he later asks his disciples, who imagine his kingship will be one of earthly power, “Are you able to drink the chalice that I drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I am baptised?” (Mark 10:38). The baptism of John is the sign of the drowning in pain and death he will undergo at the climax of his ministry—for the sake of all who, like John’s disciples, are seeking to die to sin and live in the freedom of the children of God.

God himself confirms this as he speaks from heaven, and John will go to his grave affirming Jesus is the One for whom he was sent as a herald.

But not without a struggle, of which more next time.

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Sheav6_271118 The Baptism of Christ by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1655. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Sheav5_271118 Preaching of St John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio, between 1486 and 1490. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Sheav7_271118 The Baptism of Christ by Antoine Coypel, circa 1690. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Surviving and thriving in high school https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/surviving-and-thriving-in-high-school/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 06:08:40 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16540 By Sharon Witt To win a copy of Sharon Witt’s book Surviving High School – a must for all students entering secondary education – email giveaways@sydneycatholic.org and provide your name, address and contact number. Good luck!   Entering high school can be just as daunting for parents as it is for your child. It’s a […]

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By Sharon Witt

To win a copy of Sharon Witt’s book Surviving High School – a must for all students entering secondary education – email giveaways@sydneycatholic.org and provide your name, address and contact number. Good luck!  

Entering high school can be just as daunting for parents as it is for your child. It’s a huge time of change coupled with the fact that starting high school often coincides with the onset of puberty … so be prepared for a roller coaster ride!

However, it’s never too early to start getting ready. Start spending as much time as you can reassuring your child that they do not have to face this change alone and that it will be, for the host part, a positive experience.

See related story: Raising resilient kids

Avoid sharing horror stories you may have experienced as a teenager yourself – this will not help your child! Rather, recall any positive experiences you had, especially if you made life-long friends while there.

Organisation is crucial in helping your child cope well with entering high school. Students that are best organised have a much better chance of settling in well in those first few weeks and months of secondary school.

So what can you do to ensure a smooth transition from primary to high school … here are some tips:

  1. Attend ALL orientation days and parent information evenings
  2. Go to second hand books sales for textbooks
  3. Shop around for good stationery deals
    There will be plenty of stores offering huge discounts after Christmas. Take advantage of this and stock up supplies for school and your child’s homework desk.
  4. Ensure your child has everything they need for high school well before school starts for the year
    Having items missing from the beginning of the year frustrates not only your child but the teachers also. Ensure they have enough books to write in for each subject and always have spares on hand at home.
  5. Practise using public transport if your child is using it for the first time
    For many students, changing schools means they may now have to travel on buses or trains for the first time. Help them familiarise themselves with timetables and offer a
    contingency if they miss their transport. If possible, practise the run during the holidays.
  6. Set up a designated study space in the home
    This tip is so important as so many children don’t have a specific area set up to allow them to quietly complete their homework. The bedroom is not recommended. Use any area that is reasonably quiet and well lit. Have a desk set up, computer if possible and stationery items.
  7. Set up a high school folder as a parent
    This contains all school correspondence so that you can know exactly what is happening for your child at high school. If you as a parent have a handle on what is going on at school, you will go a long way to helping your child feel in control and stay organised. I cannot recommend this highly enough! Parents really need to stay on top of school information – at least until your child establishes their own routine and systems.
  8. Encourage healthy sleeping patterns before starting high school so your child gets back into routine
    If they are staying up past midnight in the holidays and waking up at lunch time, they will get a rude shock come first day of high school when their sleeping patterns are all out of whack! Get your child into ‘school routine’ for sleeping during the final weeks of the holidays.
  9. Reassure you child that they will be fine and that you are there to help them settle in
    Most parents are also a little anxious about their child starting high school. But if you are, don’t pass this on to your child. Remain positive in all conversations about high school and reassure your child that they have all the support they need and that they have many teachers and others around to help them settle in!

Sharon Witt has been immersed in the adolescent world for more than 26 years as a secondary teacher in Melbourne. She is the author of 12 books written for young people around the topics of resilience, to help guide them through many of the issues they face in early years, including the best-selling Teen Talk, Girlwise and Wiseguys series, and the newly-released Raising Resilient Kids.
Sharon has also developed a series of ten-week programs for building resilience in our children for use in primary schools in both Middle Primary and Senior Primary. Details at: www.sharonwitt.com.au

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Students’ awards for hearts and arts https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/students-awards-for-hearts-and-arts/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:56:30 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16494 November was a big month for Sydney Catholic Schools with primary school students from across the city honoured for participation in annual The Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition and Pope Francis Service Awards. Year 6 student at St Therese Primary School Mascot, Claudia Garufi volunteered more than 80 hours in her parish and school […]

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Claudia Garufi with parents
Pope Francis Service Award participant Claudia Garufi with (left to right) Dr Dan White, parents Joseph and Rose Garufi and Cheryl Fernandes. PHOTO: John Nguyen, Sydney Catholic Schools

November was a big month for Sydney Catholic Schools with primary school students from across the city honoured for participation in annual The Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition and Pope Francis Service Awards.

Year 6 student at St Therese Primary School Mascot, Claudia Garufi volunteered more than 80 hours in her parish and school community as part of the annual service award program.

Helping out with school fundraisers or running the children’s liturgy at church “took a lot of time and sacrifices like missing out on a dance rehearsal or my brother’s soccer game, but not to get the recognition”, she said.

Claudia was one of 476 students in 46 Sydney Catholic Schools to take up the challenge to serve their school and parish communities in the annual awards process.

Now in its second year, the Pope Francis Service Award gives senior primary students the chance to give back to their school and strengthen ties with their parish.

“It just gave me so much energy and joy, and it’s not about the recognition or getting an award, there’s a reason for doing all this. It’s to follow God and be more like Jesus and to follow his way,” said Claudia.

“We were put on earth to be loving, kind and to grow our faith. Whether it’s Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or Catholicism it doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that we’re all united in believing in something that is good.”

Antonia Avgerinos
St Joseph’s Primary School Oatley student Antonia Avgerinos with (left) her mother Angela and right, Religious Education Coordinator Annette Robertson. Antonia is a regular volunteer at Plates for Mates, a homeless meal service in Redfern. PHOTO: John Nguyen

Claudia shares a birthday with St Therese and is inspired by her ‘little way’ of making small sacrifices with great love and also by Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor.

“I would love to go to Rome, to Vatican City and meet him one day,” she said.

Proud mum Rose says Claudia is a “very outgoing girl, interested in other people and always wanting to help”, while dad Joseph said she is “dedicated to her faith and puts her heart into what she does”.

To qualify for the award, each child completed 10 hours of volunteer work at school and 10 hours at their local parish, and reflected on their experience by completing a faith formation booklet.

Students with medals
The students of St Therese Primary School, Mascot, who received Pope Francis Service Award medals, with their teacher Natalie Pieratos and parish assistant priest Fr Emmanuel Chuntic. PHOTO: John Nguyen

Students’ efforts were celebrated at three Masses followed by award celebrations held across the three Sydney deaneries during November.

At the final Pope Francis Service Awards ceremony at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Earlwood, Glen Thompson, the Archdiocesan Youth Ministry Co-ordinator for Sydney Catholic Schools, thanked everyone involved in the program, particularly the students’ parents.

“You are so influential in the lives of your son or daughter and their growth in Catholic faith,” he told them.

“I sincerely pray that you continue in your support of them and their growth in what is good, true and beautiful.

He commended the students on their commitment to serve others just as Christ did.

Ethan Garner, Year 6 student at Holy Family Catholic Primary, Menai, with his ‘The Perilous Pathways of Bethlehem’. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools Dr Dan White honoured the students for making many little sacrifices to serve others, and shared the example of Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor and suffering in the world.

Sydney Catholic School’s Cheryl Fernandez said it was “a privilege” to be involved as co-ordinator of the program which grew from 220 students in 17 schools last year to 476 students in 46 schools in 2018.

‘In the eye of the beholder’ by Camilla Bowman of St Joseph’s Primary, Molong. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

St Therese Mascot teacher mentor Natalie Pieratos said it had been a pleasure to work with the school’s 13 “passionate and dedicated students” who volunteered through the Pope Francis Award Program.

“The students have certainly lived out St Therese our schools patron saint’s ‘little way’ of doing small things with great love,” she said.

Annette Robertson, Religious Education Co-ordinator at St Joseph’s Primary School Oatley, said she loved the whole Pope Francis Awards process.

“I was able to discover students and families who were already doing great things in the community that I didn’t know about,” she said.

The Christmas Story Art Exhibition and Competition 2018

Kayla Puse, Year 6 student at Holy Family Primary School, Menai took out the Archbishop’s Choice Trophy with her artwork depicting the Annunciation, the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she had been chosen to bear the Saviour.

Kayla Puse
Winner of the Archbishop’s Choice Trophy Kayla Puse with her parents. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools Dr Dan White, and Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation Anthony Cleary invited students in Years 5 and 6 and Catholic students in state schools from the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Dioceses of Wollongong and Bathurst to enter the annual visual arts competition and exhibition.

Students were invited to submit artwork that includes authentic imagery in any style from the time of Jesus, to express their understanding of the Christmas story.

The competition is designed to help children can develop a deeper appreciation of their talents and recognise the value of the arts in expressing understanding of the Catholic faith.

Thousands of students entered and judges selected 81 entries for a short exhibition and awards ceremony at the The University of Notre Dame, Sydney, on 2 December.

‘Overjoyed’ is the title of the image by Leo Wallace-Pannell, Year 5 at Sts Peter and Paul Primary in Kiama. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The beautiful exhibition of student artworks and written reflections were curated by artists Joshua Charadia and Amanda McPaul-Browne assisted by Sydney art teacher Carni Brown.

First prize for Year 5 went to Serena Azzi from Holy Family Catholic Primary School, Menai for her watercolour portrait of the wise men’s visit to the Madonna and Child.

Second prizewinner Maro Giannakopoulos from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School, Earlwood, was inspired by Byzantine iconography to create his image, Journey to Bethlehem.

Year 5 student at Sts Peter and Paul Primary School, Kiama, Leo Wallace-Pannell took out the third prize with his Van Gogh-inspired oil pastel depiction of the night sky at the first Christmas.

For Year 6 the prizewinners were Oliver Bennie of St Joseph’s Primary, Manildra, Emily Middleton of St Joseph’s Primary, Molong, and Ebony Payne of St Paul’s Primary, Camden.

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Claudia-Garufi Claudia Garufi with (left to right) Dr Dan White, parents Joseph and Rose Garufi and Cheryl Fernandes. PHOTO: John Nguyen, Sydney Catholic Schools angelaantonia_850 St Joseph's Primary School Oatley student Antonia Avgerinos with (left) her mother Angela and right, REC Annette Robertson. Antonia is a regular volunteer at Mates for Plates, a homeless meal service in Redfern. PHOTO: John Nguyen st-therese-group850 The students of St Therese Primary School, Mascot, who received Pope Francis Service Award medals, with their teacher Natalie Pieratos and parish assistant priest Fr Emmanuel Chuntic. PHOTO: John Nguyen Perilous-pathways-bethlehemethan Ethan Garner, Year 6 student at Holy Family Catholic Primary, Menai, with his 'The Perilous Pathways of Bethlehem'. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli eye 'In the eye of the beholder' by Camilla Bowman of St Joseph's Primary, Molong. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Kayla-Puse850 Winner of the Archbishop's Choice Trophy Kayla Puse with her parents. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli overjoyed 'Overjoyed' is the title of the image by Leo Wallace-Pannell, Year 5 at Sts Peter and Paul Primary in Kiama. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli
Best Christmas present is your presence https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/best-christmas-present-is-your-presence/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:43:46 +0000 https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/?p=16491 There’s no denying that gifts are a huge part of the joy of Christmas, especially for children. And every year at Christmas time, articles appear warning of rampant materialism. However, I’m yet to read any credible evidence that shows that gifts at Christmas are hazardous to our children’s mental health or well-being. Besides, most parents love buying […]

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There’s no denying that gifts are a huge part of the joy of Christmas, especially for children. And every year at Christmas time, articles appear warning of rampant materialism.

However, I’m yet to read any credible evidence that shows that gifts at Christmas are hazardous to our children’s mental health or well-being. Besides, most parents love buying gifts for their children, and treating them to stuff they’ve “always wanted!”

Yet there does seem to be a push from parents trying to get away from the materialism that has decorated Christmases past. A concern about materialism appears to be making mums and dads more thoughtful about how to make Christmas count.

Before you get too deep into plans for your children this Christmas, it might be worth pausing and asking a simple question:

What was the best Christmas ever for you? And why?

When I have asked adults and children this question, I have been surprised by the responses. Only rarely does anyone mention “That Christmas when I got (insert special gift here).”

To the contrary, most responses have nothing to do with gifts, whether given or received. Instead, people describe days without deadlines, magical moments with mothers, fabulous fun with fathers, great times with grandparents, and enjoyment with extended family.

Gifts of Time

It’s said that ‘kids spell love, T-I-M-E’. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to inspire you to make this Christmas more memorable, regardless of what is under the tree. You might consider giving your children these nine things:

  1. Tickles and wrestles at wake-up time each morning
  2. Story time before bed each night
  3. Ice-cream sundaes on Friday nights
  4. A bike ride once or twice a week
  5. A regular walk through the park or along the beach
  6. A month’s worth of Saturday night pizza outings
  7. A year’s worth of Sunday afternoon milkshakes on the back deck
  8. A guaranteed camping trip once a month
  9. A night together in the kitchen cooking a favourite meal once a week

These are simple low-cost or no-cost activities you can do together to make your family happier, and to make Christmas feel more magical by focusing less on “stuff” and more on being together, spending time with one another. By putting your plans in writing – perhaps in their Christmas card – you can extend the gift of time all year long.

Gifts of Attention

There are some other gifts you can give your children without leaving the house or spending money, and they’ll make an incredible difference to your relationships with your children. Try showering your children with these seven extra special gifts:

  1. Eye contact
  2. Kindness
  3. Your undivided attention
  4. Understanding when they make mistakes
  5. Gentleness when they don’t understand
  6. Patience when they don’t deserve it
  7. Touch – hugs, squeezes, and maybe even some wrestles (so long as no one ends up crying!)

Making Christmas Count

The most meaningful Christmases our family has experienced were when we found ways to look beyond our family to help some friends who were struggling through a family breakdown, and some people we knew who had nothing. Our children saw what it means – and how it feels – to help others in need, and truly serve without expecting anything in return.

This year, in addition to the gifts under the tree, make the time to provide your family with nothing to do except be together. Playing, swimming, kicking a ball, eating great food and enjoying the love of family. No deadlines, no emails, no distractions, no commitments, no cleaning, no chores. Just time together. All day.

Give them your time. Give them your attention and focus. As a family, find ways to help someone you know who is struggling.

But most of all, spread the Christmas spirit by leaving family and friends, especially your children, with the clear and absolute assurance that you love them.

Happy Christmas!

Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia’s leading experts in the areas of parenting, relationships and wellbeing. He is an international speaker, podcaster and author of three books including 21 Days to a Happier Family (Harper Collins, 2016) and 9 Ways to a Resilient Child (Harper Collins, 2017).

He and his wife Kylie are the parents of six daughters. When he is not spending time with his family he can be found doing TV and radio appearances as well as travelling around the country delivering talks and workshops at schools and organisations helping parents, students and staff improve their personal and professional relationships. For more see happyfamilies.com.au

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