New priest heads north on 1400cc pilgrimage

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Patrick Mara and the Suzuki he will ride to Darwin.
Patrick Mara and the Suzuki he will ride to Darwin.

Patrick Mara’s first pilgrimage after his ordination as a Missionary of the Sacred Heart will be aboard a 1400cc motorbike on a 4600km ride from Sydney to Darwin.

The Suzuki GSX1400 was a gift from an elderly priest, a fellow MSC, and the trip is a way to transport it to Darwin, where Patrick will serve until the end of the year.

“One of our priests was an avid motorcycle rider for his whole life, but now he’s 74,” said Patrick, 35. “He had a motorbike and he offered it to me.”

The ride will be a spiritual journey for the newly-ordained priest, who has allowed about two weeks to make the trip.

“It’s like a pilgrimage,” he said.

Patrick will travel through Albury, Melbourne, Adelaide and Alice Springs, staying with friends, at MSC parishes and communities, and diocesan clergy along the way.

North of Alice Springs he will visit the Santa Teresa Mission, established by the MSCs in the 1930s and now under the care of the Divine Word Missionaries.

Patrick joined the MSCs in 2007 after a year of lay mission work which allowed him to utilise his first trade, as a plumber.

“[The call to religious life] first came to me when I was about 22 or 23 years,” he said.

“Before that I was paying a mortgage; I was looking to get married and have a family.

“But there was something within me, and it just grew out of nothing, like a little seed.”

He was drawn to the “very down-to-earth” nature of the MSCs.

“The people that I met were very inspirational people, and very simple in their way of life, particularly living in the mission.”

But life as a priest meant giving up plumbing, a job he loved, and his desire for a family.

Life without a wife and children “was probably the hardest part for me to reconcile”, Patrick said.

“That was the biggest hurdle for me to overcome, coming to terms with not having a family.

“Once I committed to it, and once I made the decision that I would give this way of life a go, I just felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Patrick was “very excited, very grateful, very happy” in the days leading up to his ordination, by Bishop Eugene Hurley, Bishop of Darwin, at St Thomas Becket Church, Lewisham, on 31 May.

It is believed to be the first ordination at the church since it opened in 1888. Patrick’s parents, John and Louise, and his three sisters were to be among more than 300 people present.

John said he was proud to see Patrick “very, very happy” in “a wonderful order”.

He described his son as a “very talented tradesman” whose religious vocation would allow him to combine his abilities as a plumber with his love of mission.

Patrick was eager to “lead a community in their prayer and their worship”.

He was preparing to return to Darwin, where he ministered to Catholic refugees held in the city’s detention centres. “Many of the people I visit are Vietnamese, they’ve come to Australia by boat because they are being persecuted still in Vietnam,” he said.

“About 85 per cent of them are Catholic.

“The Christians and the Catholics, they particularly are a target of the government, especially when they stand up for human rights abuses, so they end up having to flee the country.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to break the bread with them.”