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Monica Doumit: Moment of faith, clarity and joy

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The faithful pay their respects to Cardinal George Pell whose body laid in State at St St Mary's Cathedral on 1 February 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The faithful pay their respects to Cardinal George Pell whose body laid in State at St St Mary’s Cathedral on 1 February 2023. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Those who looked forward to seeing the end of the Cardinal are becoming aware that they’re heading for disappointment

“He who sits in the heavens laughs,” the psalmist writes.

My guess is there was a grin on the face of more than a few of the heavenly courtiers on Thursday at the funeral of Cardinal George Pell.

There were a number of things that happened that I’m sure would have drawn a smile from those in heaven, and a mirthful one-liner from His Eminence.

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Let’s start with the planned protest organised by Community Action for Rainbow Rights. For all the publicity given by the media, it attracted maybe 200 or 300 people. There were definitely fewer of them than the 375 bishops, priests and seminarians in attendance, whose procession into St Mary’s Cathedral alone took much longer than the protest march through Hyde Park.

Then there were the thousands who showed up (official estimates put the crowd at 6000 people). This was the biggest Mass Australia has seen since World Youth Day 2008, and it was held mid-morning on a work and school day. They came to the Cathedral and stayed, despite knowing that they would have to stand outside in scorching temperatures and could much more easily watched the whole thing from home on the livestream. Those watching on the big screens in the forecourt were joined by another 50,000 who have viewed the livestream since.

I’m sure the Cardinal would also have given a wry smile when thinking particularly of ABC journalists, who reportedly did not make the invitation list.

The extraordinary homily and two powerful eulogies were a delight to hear. When David Pell, the Cardinal’s brother, told those gathered that the Cardinal loved Sydney and that from the outpouring of love they had seen, Sydney loved him, the excited roar of those in the forecourt could be heard inside. Yes, he was loved. David also took the time to set the record straight on a number of matters, showing that the courageous pursuit and proclamation of truth runs in the family.

Mourners stayed for hours in the cathedral forecourt to pray along with those inside. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

There was the procession of the casket down to the crypt for final burial, with the jeers of a small crowd of protestors desirous to hound him literally to the grave overwhelmed by the sound of ‘Ave Maria’ being sung by those in the forecourt.

It was all just so perfect.

An unexpected moment of clarity (and joy) for me came from hearing the protest organisers, whose main reason for protesting meant to be about things like same-sex marriage, other LGBTQ matters and abortion rights. They were not satisfied that the laws across the country had changed on marriage and gender, nor that Pell was dead. “Those attending the funeral honour his legacy and are determined to continue it,” they wailed.

The Cardinal’s earthly life may have ended. The laws on marriage and abortion and gender may have changed. But the truth does not change, nor does it die. On Thursday, the protestors finally realised this was the case, which is why I think they were reacting so strongly.

The penny finally dropped that the death and burial of Cardinal Pell will do nothing to stop the truth from being proclaimed, nor to stop social evils being resisted. The Catholic Church will continue because Jesus Christ promised that He will be with us to the end of the age.

While one, faithful priest was lowered into the ground, 300 more belted the Salve Regina at the top of their lungs. Please God, they will be joined in the not-too-distant future by the 75 seminarians who were also gathered in the crypt, many of whom warmly speak about the inspiration they found in the Cardinal and their hope to be priests like him.

Archbishop Fisher mentioned in his homily that 17 first year students were in their first week at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd; the largest cohort that seminary had ever seen.

What’s more, just hours after the Cardinal was buried, three new priests were ordained for the Diocese of Parramatta. Many of those who attended the funeral did the double-up and attended the Ordination as well; a beautiful bookend to the sadness of the funeral and a providential gift from God that on the very day one shepherd laid down his staff, three new ones took theirs up.

The beautiful thing about Thursday was that it made clear that courageous fidelity to the Church and the teachings of Christ would not be buried with the Cardinal. Instead, those present recommitted ourselves to carrying on his legacy, no matter the cost. Deo Gratias.

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