In October this year, Catholic Outlook had the opportunity to speak to Australia’s new Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro. In this interview, she describes what it was like to be part of the Mass celebrating the 10th anniversary of the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
Although only officially being in the role since the end of August, her first few months in the role have already provided the new Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, Chiara Porro, some unique experiences.
On 17 of October, she was ‘happy and excited’ to participate in the 10th Anniversary Mass for St Mary MacKillop, organised by Domus Australia. Cardinal George Pell, newly arrived back in Rome, and who played a critical role in the canonisation process, said the Mass held in the Domus Australia chapel. Due to the COVID restrictions in Rome right now, it was a very intimate affair, focused on the Australian religious community in Rome and also attended by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Domus Australia is a guest house in Rome favoured by Australian pilgrims to Rome, with a spectacular and renowned chapel.
“Domus Australia has a very beautiful chapel with a number of Australian features” said Ambassador Porro. “We celebrate Australia Day and other important national dates there. It reminds me of home.”
A number of female Vatican ambassadors were invited in recognition of the strong female role model that St Mary MacKillop represents.
“Mary MacKillop lobbied Rome on behalf of the Australian people. Education was the tool she used to help the poor. She was a strong woman,” explained Ambassador Porro.
“Mary MacKillop is our first saint and obviously a very Catholic figure, but she is so much more than that.
“We saw, during her canonisation ceremony, all of Australia get behind this woman who really represented the values of Australia and went out of her way for the poorest. She gave them a tool, education, to get them out of poverty. She didn’t hold back, she spoke her mind when she really believed in something. And spoke out on issues like child sexual abuse as well.”
The messages of Mary MacKillop resonate with all Australians, said Ambassador Porro. “At the time of her canonisation, all Australians, not just Catholics, felt very proud.”
For Ambassador Porro it was significant that the same week Australia was celebrating Mary MacKillop, Pope Francis was also speaking of the power of education when he spoke to the Global compact on Education emphasising the need to rethink education so that it can ensure “everyone has access to a quality education, consonant with the dignity of the human person.”
“He spoke about how education is hope, which is exactly the message that drove Mary MacKillop’s work” said Ambassador Porro.
“When Mary MacKillop came to Rome, it was to speak about Australia” she said.
She sees some similarities in the work she is doing promoting Australia to the Vatican, with what St Mary MacKillop did when she travelled to Rome in 1873 to seek papal approval for the religious order the Sisters of St Joseph from Pope Pius IX as well as the what may of the Australian religious in Rome are also doing today.
“At the time Australia was known as the colonies. Luckily they don’t call us that anymore, but we still need to give our perspective and let others know who we are,” she said.
To mark the anniversary, Ambassador Porro presented a video of some of the places that Mary MacKillop frequented in Rome, and reflections from people who have played a part in, or been associated with the canonisation. The video features the Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalem Tiffany MacDonald, who is a direct descendent of St Mary MacKillop and continues to be inspired by her qualities.