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Palm Sunday procession through Sydney’s west proclaims Christ’s saving power to all

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Old and young, sick and well, buoyed and burdened, Holy Week opened with the people of God gathered around the true centre of the world, the Cross of Christ.

In Western Sydney streets where wounds from pandemic lockdowns, cost of living pressures and the heartbreak of war remain evident, 300 people proclaimed a spirit of peace and joy to all over the last leg of a three-week Lenten journey between Lidcombe, Berala and Auburn parishes.

Led by Bishop Richard Umbers, pilgrims wound their way through back streets and along shopping strips, singing hymns, praying and meditating on the scenes of Christ’s saving Passion, taking turns to carry a large wooden cross.

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A young pilgrim gazes at the saint’s statue at the front of St Joachim’s Church in Lidcombe. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Lidcombe parishioner Jessica Asuit was drawn so deeply into meditating on the sacred mysteries the nagging pain she had been suffering in her knees and hip disappeared.

“Today was beautiful, I want everyone to know about it so next year everyone can get involved. This is our faith!” she beamed.

The three-kilometre Stations of the Cross walking pilgrimage took the large group from St Peter Chanel and St Joseph parish in Berala, to St Joachim’s in Lidcombe, the geographical and multicultural heart of Sydney.

Fr Joshua Miechels and Fr Bijoy Joseph lead prayers on the pilgrimage.

At St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church they were welcomed by parish priest Fr Simon Ckuj, who asked them to pray for an end to the war in Ukraine. Outside a nursing home they prayed for its ailing residents.

At St Joachim’s Primary School, student representatives handed the pilgrims large palm leaves and handmade palm crosses before joining them in prayer.

Processing to the church steps for the final stations, they were accompanied by brass musicians of the Uniting Church’s Royal Tongan Christian Band in a moment of Christian unity.

“These processions have given me so much strength and blessing that I forgot about the pain,”  said Jessica.

“Once you are walking and praying the Way of the Cross, focusing your mind on what is happening to Jesus, you forget about yourself.

“Soon it will be Easter and look at me. God is so good!”

Jacqueline Daniel helped organise the pilgrimages which began on 10 March with a cross walk from St Joachim’s to St John of God, Auburn, and continued from Auburn to Berala on 17 March.

She was inspired by her mother Susan Abood, who followed the second pilgrimage by car after spending time critically ill in hospital.

“She wasn’t going to miss it. She was prayed for by name during the first pilgrimage and I think the power of prayer got us through that very difficult time,” she said.

Eugene Ivancic was moved by the realisation that it is “never too late” to return to Christ.

“There have been times in the past when I thought it was too late for me but then realised that it wasn’t, with the help of a friend or a stranger talking about Christ,” he said.

“Christ took up that cross, took it up to Calvary for us so we could be free of sin. And then knowing that you come back home where you’re supposed to be.”

Chad Lawandos had also been to all three pilgrimages.

“The world has become a dark place and this is just a beautiful expression of our faith,” he said.

“It shows our faith is alive and we want everyone to get involved and spread the love of Jesus, to come and join us.”

Slavica Galic found peace and retreat from “all the noise and nonsense” of the world and its demands that can impinge on family life.

“This Lent instead of giving up something I made a promise to come to Mass midweek and some stations of the cross. Today was amazing, it helps me focus on the things that really matter,” she said.

“We’ve just spent a lovely afternoon together walking, singing, praying and preparing for what’s ahead this week.”

Lidcombe parish priest Fr Epeli Qimaqima told The Catholic Weekly that it was crucial for the combined parishes’ outreach to be grounded on the Christ’s passion and Cross.

“I think processions are organic to the Catholic soul, but it was very important that we weren’t only carrying the Cross but that we were also meditating on the Passion,” he said.

“The church is a pilgrim people walking together. This is what our faith looks like, but it has to have the cross at the heart of it.

“Without the cross, walking together is not Christ-like or Christ-centred. It’s only in his name that we profess the truth.”

Following the pilgrimage, Bishop Umbers celebrated Mass with Fr Qimaqima, telling the 700-strong congregation that in Jesus’ cross he has “shown us how he loves us to the end.”

“He has won for us forgiveness and extended to us the grace of sharing in the life of the Trinity.

“In Christ we die, in Christ we rise again and he does it in the midst of human reality.

“He does not spare those around him from confusion and doubt.

“We are always faced with the challenge of knowing that our own efforts are not enough.

“We face difficulties, uncertainties, crises and we are in the middle of a crisis of faith in the church.

“When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on this earth? Who believes? We have shown that we believe.”

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