Prayers for those who have died fighting Australia’s bushfires, those who have been injured or have lost property, thanksgiving for those who have been fighting the fires and prayers for rain were at the heart of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s Mass intentions and homily at St Mary’s Cathedral this morning.
A national collection for victims will also be taken up in all Catholic parishes around Australia on the Australia Day weekend, he emphasised in his homily.
Over a thousand people, including representatives of those fighting the fires and organisations working to assist those affected by them were present for the liturgy.
“Our mettle as a community is being tested by fire,”
“We gather in the shadow of a drought that has now lasted for three years and a bushfire season already the most intense in our country’s history,” Archbishop Fisher said in the homily – also livestreamed for audiences around Australia and throughout the world.
Among those attending were New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, NSW Rural Fire Service Executive Director Trina Schmidt, St Vincent de Paul Society Sydney President Tony Cranney and the Society’s NSW President Peter MacNamara, CatholicCare’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Phillips and Knight Hospitaller Stephen Quain from the Order of Malta.
“Together let us pray for a great outpouring of water from the heavens to cleanse our land of destruction and revivify both the bush and our hearts,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“[We] stand with all those suffering the destruction of drought and fire, and all those assisting them.”
The unprecedented scale of the bushfire crisis has garnered support from the global community including Pope Francis who mentioned the plight of Australia in his regular Wednesday papal audience in Rome last week.
Archbishop Fisher lauded the work being undertaken by Catholic agencies and charities such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, CatholicCare and the Order of Malta.
“Key Church agencies in welfare, health and education, are working with local parishes, CatholicCare services and St Vincent de Paul conferences to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response,” he told worshippers.
“The Church in Australia will direct collections on the Australia Day weekend to the St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal, so that we can maintain this momentum and long continue to demonstrate human and Christian solidarity.”
In keeping with liturgical feast of Christ’s Baptism being celebrated during the Mass, Archbishop Fisher described the fire of the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism as agents of rejuvenation and hope as the nation faced an ongoing trial.
“Fire and water – which along with earth and air are the classical elements – have always been both gifts and challenges for humanity,” he said.
“Through the inferno of these past weeks, the spirit of our people was not consumed. Rather, their hardiness and goodness were on display.
“If baptismal waters call us to higher ideals, they also purify us for living those ideals. Fire, too can test our mettle, even refine what is there.
“As our nation passes through this baptism of fire, it can emerge stronger and greater than before.”