Over the past three weeks I had the privilege of sharing in the experience of the Marist
pilgrimage. As forecast by many friends and family, it was a life changing experience. Difficult
to describe in words, possibly the best way to share meaning with others, is to describe some
prominent impressions of the journey, which took us through the Holy Land, to Rome and
then to southern France, where Saint Marcellin began his ministry as a Priest and founded the
First among those impressions was that the whole experience emphasised the well known
words of Saint Mary MacKillop;
We are but travellers here.
The guides and leaders of the pilgrimage, when introducing many of the sites visited in the
Holy Land, prefaced their informative remarks with the statement “Tradition and our Faith
would have us believe……” Whilst historical accuracy initially preoccupied some in the group,
the fact we were praying and reflecting in places where for centuries before us pilgrims had
done likewise, underscored the shortness of our physical lives in the plan of God, and the
strength of faith evident in the lives of so many people throughout our Judeo-Christian story.
Second was the universal and enduring appreciation for the importance of Christian education
for young people. Every pilgrim from Australia was a Marist teacher or involved in Marist work
to directly support young people’s education and training. During our visit to the Bethlehem
University, situated on the West Bank, and run by the De La Salle Brothers, we met a group of
Palestinian students. The difficulties these young people overcome daily, with the support of
their families in order to attend university, emphasised the fundamental right every person has
to an education. The constant presence of armed soldiers, the long hours spent daily waiting
in queues through checkpoints, the anxiety of possible detention, limitations on movement,
and the dearth of employment opportunities, all create a backdrop where hope could easily
disappear. However in the midst of all this, the Bethlehem University is a shining beacon of
hope for the right of every young person to receive an education. This same right to an
education is what drove Saint Marcellin in his own harsh, and unsettled times, with such will
and heroic resilience.
Third was the importance of prayer in our lives as people of faith. Each day we were blessed to
celebrate Mass together in a place of significance in our Christian story. In Rome, among some
thousands gathered in Saint Peter’s square, we listened to the simple, faith filled, practical and
challenging words of Pope Francis . In fostering the gift of faith in this secular world, and give
hope to young people, the Holy Father urged parents and grandparents in particular to take
responsibility for teaching children in their families of God’s love for them and importantly to
pray. Repeatedly Pope Francis made the sign of the cross, slowly saying with meaning and
emotion, the familiar words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
To ponder, understand, and believe these words when we speak to God was the gift Francis
sought be given to our children.
May God continue to strengthen our collective resolve to ensure our Marist schools are first
and foremost places where our young people encounter their loving God through the rich
experiences of the education we provide for their own journeys through life.