The sign from above that graced an ordinary work day
One morning last April 3.45am Joseph Saliba woke up, quietly dressed and left the house while his family slept.
Climbing into his council waste truck at the depot where it was parked, he noticed it was a darker pre-dawn than usual. But the 48-year-old father of four from south-west Sydney remembers the morning of 22 April because of what happened while he emptied bins in a quiet suburban street.
He noticed on his internal video screen something pale land in the truck’s metal hopper along with (in fact, gently cushioned by) a load of green waste. In that split second he recognised with a shock the item was a statue of the Madonna and slammed the emergency stop button just before it was swept into the truck’s main body and crushed.
“There was no way I was going to let the statue get smashed,” said Joseph, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wentworthville.
“I fetched it, gave it a kiss as you do, strapped her in with the seat belt beside me and continued on my merry way. I was so full of joy, to be there at the right time like that was so beautiful. I was on a high all day.”
With serene face, white gown and veil, faded blue sash and yellow rose on the bare left foot, the knee-high statue depicts Our Lady of Lourdes.
Joseph has never been to Lourdes in France where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette Soubiros and where, until the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of pilgrims flocked to the healing springs that emerged there.
But he says the timing of her arrival at his home left no doubt that his heavenly mother is looking out for him and his wife Ann-Marie who lives with an autoimmune disease.
“Around that time we had some storms in our marriage and in the family, but these last months have been really calm for us,” he said.
“BUT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS VERY WISE IN PUTTING SUCH A BIG AN IMPORTANCE ON SACRAMENTALS, THEY REALLY DO STRENGTHEN OUR BELIEF.”
Joseph, known to the other drivers as ‘The Priest’, makes no secret of the fact that he is a very proud Catholic grateful to be part of the “one true Church”.
“I’ve got two rosary beads in my truck, a brown scapular, miraculous medal and medal of St Benedict,” he laughs. “Guys laugh when they get into my truck for the first time. But the Catholic Church is very wise in putting such a big an importance on sacramentals, they really do strengthen our belief.
“I’m not perfect, I’ve had my demons in the past, but I do talk a lot about my faith.”
What continues to amaze him is that he wasn’t meant to be collecting green waste that day at all, but had only decided on the spur of the moment to help out another driver. “I’ve been driving a garbage truck for 13 years and nothing like this has ever happened to me,” Joseph says, shaking his head. “I’ve seen a lot of strange things show up but never a relic like that.”
Our Lady now graces the Saliba family’s home, and Joseph is convinced she hand-picked his truck to hop into that day.
“My parents made sure I grew up with respect for Our Lord and Lady, but when I married and became a father and saw my beautiful wife as a mother I realised the importance of Our Lady a whole lot more,” he smiles.
“If someone else had picked up that bin it would have been smashed to smithereens. So I thank God that I saved the statue, but I didn’t really find it, Our Lady found me.
“It was meant to be, and her coming to me like that really touched my heart.”