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Catholics flock to Vatican for MacKillop canonisation

ABS News

Updated Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:05pm AEDT

Mary MacKillop will be canonised Saint Mary of the Cross on Sunday. (AAP: Dean Lewins)

By Europe correspondent Emma Alberici  

Mary MacKillop will officially become Australia’s first Catholic Saint this weekend.  

Up to 8,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome where Pope Benedict will name her Saint Mary of the Cross.  

It is the culmination of 85 years of work for the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the order of nuns Mary MacKillop co-founded.  

Australians, who started to arrive at the Vatican earlier this week, are now flowing in to the Holy See to hail Mary MacKillop.  

“I was brought up Catholic. Being an Aboriginal woman I can relate to many of the things about her life, the struggles and for me it is just an honour to be part of the group that has been able to come,” one Australian said.  

The Archbishop of Adelaide, Phillip Wilson, has also travelled to St Peter’s Square to see the canonisation.  

“It is a great honour for me to be here and I almost can hardly believe it,” he said.  

“I came to know Mary MacKillop as a little boy back home reading about her and came to sense how wonderful she was and she has always been an important part of my life.  

“To think that I am the Archbishop of Adelaide and the president of the bishop’s conference when this canonisation is taking place and I have the great honour of being able to celebrate the canonisation mass with the Holy Father, it is really a great moment of honour for me.”  

Mary MacKillop will be canonised at a ceremony on Sunday along with five other men and women from Canada, Poland, Spain and Italy.  

For Sister Maria Casey, it is the culmination of a lifetime’s work for herself and for those before her who have lobbied since 1925 to have their leader recognised as Australia’s first Catholic saint.  

“The concept of a woman being in charge of a whole community, a whole congregation of women, and being free to move them from one place to the other was unheard of and certainly unheard of in Australia,” she said.  

Mary MacKillop was born in Melbourne but set up her first Catholic school in Penola, South Australia.  

She was a rebel – demanding the right to self-govern her order away from the control of the senior clergy.  

Constant arguments with the bishops eventually led to her five-month excommunication from the church in 1871.  

At least part of the tension between Mary MacKillop and the bishops stemmed from the sister’s decision to report Father Patrick Keating, a priest who had been sexually abusing children at their schools.  

Sister Casey says Mary MacKillop took a stance against child abuse.  

“No matter where the sex abuse occurred, it diminishes the dignity of people. It degrades them as human beings. Mary would have been very concerned about that. She would have fought against it,” she said.  

The Pope’s decision to grant Mary MacKillop the divine title came only after it was proven by church experts that she had been responsible for two miracles. 


Thousands in Rome to celebrate Australia’s first saint

Australian officials said 8,000 people were expected in Rome
15 October 2010
By Dario Thuburn (AFP)  

VATICAN CITY — Thousands of pilgrims arrived in Rome this week to witness the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop by Pope Benedict XVI, as “Mary Mania” grips her native country.

MacKillop (1842-1909), a nun and teacher who fell out with church authorities after denouncing a paedophile priest, is due to be formally recognised as a Catholic saint at a mass in the Vatican on Sunday.

At the ceremony the pope is also set to canonise Brother Andre (1845-1937), a humble monk from the Canadian province of Quebec who was reputed to have healing powers, as well as another four saints from Italy, Poland and Spain.

Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, has arrived in Rome to help celebrate the mass and many nuns from the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart — the order that MacKillop helped found — are also expected. 

Australian consular authorities have parked a camper van on the edge of St Peter’s square to help pilgrims and there will be an evening of Aborigine dances and art in the Vatican museum later on Friday ahead of the ceremony.

Australian officials said 8,000 people were expected in Rome for the mass.

“This is the biggest contingent of Australians to travel overseas in peacetime ever,” Pell told reporters in the Vatican ahead of the mass.

Nationwide celebrations are also planned in Australia for Sunday’s canonisation, with MacKillop’s former home town of Penola expecting up to 20,000 worshippers and special masses across the country.

Wine from Penola will be served at Vatican functions linked to the event.

A part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy has seized Australia ahead of the canonisation, with “MacKillop” the musical playing to sold-out shows and a nightly projection of her image on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

MacKillop already has stamps and pop songs in her honour, along with merchandise including bumper stickers and keyrings that is selling briskly. Her fans have also set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account in her honour.

Tim Fischer, Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See and a former deputy prime minister, said MacKillop’s life was one of “a great Australian.”

“I think her life and work is such a dramatic story of conquering adversity that it has a resonance far and wide,” Fischer told AFP in an interview.

“Her story would make a great Italian grand opera,” he said.

“Famous women who have contributed to the fibre and fabric of the nation have often been underplayed,” he added.

Mary MacKillop, who devoted her life to building schools and helping the poor, has been a revered figure in Australia since shortly after her death.

Born to Scottish parents in Melbourne, she supported her large family as a teenager through her work as a governess, clerk and teacher.

She also had a rebellious streak and was briefly excommunicated from the Catholic church in 1871 for “insubordination” after a series of rows with senior clergy including reporting a priest who molested a child.

Senior Sister Brigette Sipa, director of MacKillop Place where the saint-to-be is buried, said exposing the abuse was just part of MacKillop’s work of educating poor children and caring for the needy.”

She did report the priest, but that wouldn’t have been the main reason for her ex-communication, there were lots of reasons,” Sipa told AFP.

Sipa also played down calls by Australia’s Broken Rites group for MacKillop to be made the patron saint of abused children. 

The proposal came as the Catholic church battles a widespread scandal over child abuse in countries Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Britain and the United States, including allegations that senior clergy covered for paedophiles. 

Canonisation is only the end point of a long process of documentation and research into the life of would-be saints by Vatican authorities that often lasts several years and must include at least two proven miracles. 

Pell said the the example of MacKillop’s saintly life would boost the Catholic church in Australia and could also help convert non-believers. 

“Certainly this canonisation will help, it will encourage people,” he said. 

“For those people who are looking for something, I would say have a look at Mary MacKillop. She was a woman of faith.” 


Buzz builds around new unofficial saint of abuse victims

Houston Chronicle


Oct. 14, 2010, 4:20PM 

VATICAN CITY — Mother Mary MacKillop won’t be canonized until Sunday, but some Catholics already have an unofficial title for the 19th-century Australian nun: Patron Saint of Whistleblowers. 

MacKillop (1842-1909), Australia’s first native-born saint, was co-founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, an order of nuns dedicated to the religious instruction of children and care for the poor. 

The strong-willed MacKillop, who worked under harsh conditions in the Australian outback, was once briefly excommunicated by her bishop for reasons that have never been entirely clear. 

According to a new Australian television documentary, at least one of the reasons MacKillop was punished was that members of her order denounced clerical child abuse.  

“The story of the excommunication amounts to this: that some priests had been uncovered for being involved in the sexual abuse of children,” the Rev. Paul Gardiner told Australia’s ABC television. 

After her denunciation led to disciplining the priests, Gardiner said, “one of these priests was so angry with this that he swore vengeance … by getting at the Josephites and destroying them.”  

The same bishop who excommunicated MacKillop rescinded the decision on his deathbed five months later. 

Yet the news that MacKillop may have been persecuted for speaking out has already prompted bloggers and others to nominate her as the “patron saint of whistleblowers,” and even of abuse victims themselves. 

“If the facts support that account, then she should be looked to for her intercession by all who seek justice in the sex-abuse crisis,” said the Rev. James Martin, a New York Jesuit and author of My Life With the Saints

“The timing of this revelation seems providential,” Martin said, referring to abuse scandals that have shaken the church in Europe for most of 2010. “Maybe there is a reason that Mary MacKillop is walking back onto the international stage at this time.” 

But according to the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, casting MacKillop’s life was about much more.  

“The merits of Mother Mary MacKillop, her commitment to children, to the poor, to indigenous peoples, to the dignity of all human persons, were much more extensive than the fact that she denounced an abuser,” Lombardi said. 

Martin doubted the Vatican will make any official link between MacKillop and child abuse but said her experience with the problem could become a focus of popular devotion.  

According to one American advocate for sex-abuse victims, MacKillop’s story is “an example of what needs to be done.” 

“Sister Mary understood that the men who were sexually abusing children were just men and were not representing God,” said Gary Bergeron of Survivor’s Voice, a group that is organizing an international demonstration by abuse victims to be held in St. Peter’s Square. 

“Anyone that can be used as an example to protect children is a positive thing,” Bergeron said. “And frankly, we could use all the help we can get.”

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