St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta overflowed with the faithful celebrating Ash Wednesday and the launch of Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion with a Pontifical Solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop of Parramatta, Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv.
Paul O’Callaghan, CEO of Caritas Australia, spoke after Mass in a panel alongside Bishop Vincent and Fr Charlie Dittmeier, an international guest helping the deaf in Cambodia.
Participants watched a powerful video about Bayan, a girl who studies at a Caritas School for Syrian Refugees, who are currently the largest group of displaced people in the world.
“Attending the Jordanian Caritas School really changed Bayan’s psychological state, it gave her a sense of tranquillity,” Bayan’s mother said, after the harrowing violence of the Syrian civil war.
For Paul O’Callaghan, the connection to Bayan was personal, having visited the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
READ: Bishop Vincent’s homily
“I’ve been to the local area and met several hundred families in that situation. Those refugees can’t go back to Syria because of the war, now in its sixth year,” Paul said.
“They’re in a very difficult situation. On top of providing food, shelter, water, one of the things we try to nurture is a sense of hope for the future; being able to do things.”
Paul noted many of the refugees he met are highly educated but stuck in a desperate situation, without a secure future or permanent home. He went on to discuss how the experiences of nearly one million refugees in Syria and another million in Lebanon are difficult for the average Australian to fathom.
“These stories hopefully help people understand the human dimension – and what’s involved for children,” Paul said.
The gargantuan challenges faced by these families and individuals are why Project Compassion is so important.
“Project Compassion is the Catholic Church’s biggest appeal to parishioners, schools, the Catholic community – supporting marginalised communities in Asia, the Pacific and beyond,” Paul said.
“It’s a big deal – it’s the single biggest way people can support practical work for people at the margins.”
“The Catholic community has been has been wonderfully generous. The Diocese of Parramatta has been fantastic.”
“Our hope is that throughout the Diocese, people will find away to support this year knowing the practical things making a big difference in people’s lives.”
The panel, group discussions and light supper followed the Mass, which offered sacrifice and praise to God on Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of the Lenten season.
The Prayers of the Faithful presented the request for Christlike generosity in prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent.
In his homily, Bishop Vincent invited all Catholics to “live the wilderness experience of Jesus” this Lent.
“Above all, we need to put the powerlessness and the divine pathos of the humble Servant Jesus front and centre,” Bishop Vincent said.
“Project Compassion is about us becoming ambassadors for Christ. It is a means through which we express our communion, show solidarity and above all share the Good News of Christ’s love to our brothers and sisters in need,” Bishop Vincent said.
READ: Bishop Vincent’s homily
Bishop Vincent pointed to the need to purify the Church, through the sanctification of Her members and rededication to Her divine mission, especially after the “threshold moment” of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“Let us reclaim the church as a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded,” he said.
“May we through the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving acquire a new heart and a new spirit. Then like the people of the covenant, we too shall emerge revitalised and become the sacrament of God’s compassion and care for the least and the last.”
Fr Charlie Dittmeier inspired launch members with his testimony about transforming lives in Cambodia, through his creation of the Cambodian sign language, a project directly supported by Caritas Australia.
View images from the Mass and launch below or click here.