2023 Lenten Message from Pope Francis

ASH WEDNESDAY. Pope Francis sprinkles a Cardinal with ashes during Ash Wednesday mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on February 17, 2021.

Lenten Penance and the Synodal Journey

Dear brothers and sisters!

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus. There we see the Lord’s response to the failure of his disciples to understand him. Shortly before, there had been a real clash between the Master and Simon Peter, who, after professing his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, rejected his prediction of the passion and the cross. Jesus had firmly rebuked him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a scandal to me, because you do not think according to God, but according to men!” (Mt 16:23). Following this, “six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John his brother and led them away to a high mountain” (Mt 17:1).

The Gospel of the Transfiguration is proclaimed every year on the Second Sunday of Lent. During this liturgical season, the Lord takes us with him to a place apart. While our ordinary commitments compel us to remain in our usual places and our often repetitive and sometimes boring routines, during Lent we are invited to ascend “a high mountain” in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people.

Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. This is precisely what Peter and the other disciples needed to do. To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration. These requisites are also important for the synodal journey to which, as a Church, we are committed to making. We can benefit greatly from reflecting on the relationship between Lenten penance and the synodal experience.

In his “retreat” on Mount Tabor, Jesus takes with him three disciples, chosen to be witnesses of a unique event. He wants that experience of grace to be shared, not solitary, just as our whole life of faith is an experience that is shared. For it is in togetherness that we follow Jesus. Together too, as a pilgrim Church in time, we experience the liturgical year and Lent within it, walking alongside those whom the Lord has placed among us as fellow travellers. Like the ascent of Jesus and the disciples to Mount Tabor, we can say that our Lenten journey is “synodal”, since we make it together along the same path, as disciples of the one Master. For we know that Jesus is himself the Way, and therefore, both in the liturgical journey and in the journey of the Synod, the Church does nothing other than enter ever more deeply and fully into the mystery of Christ the Saviour.

And so we come to its culmination. The Gospel relates that Jesus “was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). This is the “summit”, the goal of the journey. At the end of their ascent, as they stand on the mountain heights with Jesus, the three disciples are given the grace of seeing him in his glory, resplendent in supernatural light. That light did not come from without, but radiated from the Lord himself. The divine beauty of this vision was incomparably greater than all the efforts the disciples had made in the ascent of Tabor. During any strenuous mountain trek, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the path; yet the panorama that opens up at the end amazes us and rewards us by its grandeur. So too, the synodal process may often seem arduous, and at times we may become discouraged. Yet what awaits us at the end is undoubtedly something wondrous and amazing, which will help us to understand better God’s will and our mission in the service of his kingdom.

The disciples’ experience on Mount Tabor was further enriched when, alongside the transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared, signifying respectively the Law and the Prophets (cf. Mt 17:3). The newness of Christ is at the same time the fulfilment of the ancient covenant and promises; it is inseparable from God’s history with his people and discloses its deeper meaning. In a similar way, the synodal journey is rooted in the Church’s tradition and at the same time open to newness. Tradition is a source of inspiration for seeking new paths and for avoiding the opposed temptations of immobility and improvised experimentation.

The Lenten journey of penance and the journey of the Synod alike have as their goal a transfiguration, both personal and ecclesial. A transformation that, in both cases, has its model in the Transfiguration of Jesus and is achieved by the grace of his paschal mystery. So that this transfiguration may become a reality in us this year, I would like to propose two “paths” to follow in order to ascend the mountain together with Jesus and, with him, to attain the goal.

The first path has to do with the command that God the Father addresses to the disciples on Mount Tabor as they contemplate Jesus transfigured. The voice from the cloud says: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). The first proposal, then, is very clear: we need to listen to Jesus. Lent is a time of grace to the extent that we listen to him as he speaks to us. And how does he speak to us? First, in the word of God, which the Church offers us in the liturgy. May that word not fall on deaf ears; if we cannot always attend Mass, let us study its daily biblical readings, even with the help of the internet. In addition to the Scriptures, the Lord speaks to us through our brothers and sisters, especially in the faces and the stories of those who are in need. Let me say something else, which is quite important for the synodal process: listening to Christ often takes place in listening to our brothers and sisters in the Church. Such mutual listening in some phases is the primary goal, but it remains always indispensable in the method and style of a synodal Church.

On hearing the Father’s voice, the disciples “fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:6-8). Here is the second proposal for this Lent: do not take refuge in a religiosity made up of extraordinary events and dramatic experiences, out of fear of facing reality and its daily struggles, its hardships and contradictions. The light that Jesus shows the disciples is an anticipation of Easter glory, and that must be the goal of our own journey, as we follow “him alone”. Lent leads to Easter: the “retreat” is not an end in itself, but a means of preparing us to experience the Lord’s passion and cross with faith, hope and love, and thus to arrive at the resurrection. Also on the synodal journey, when God gives us the grace of certain powerful experiences of communion, we should not imagine that we have arrived – for there too, the Lord repeats to us: “Rise, and do not be afraid”. Let us go down, then, to the plain, and may the grace we have experienced strengthen us to be “artisans of synodality” in the ordinary life of our communities.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit inspire and sustain us this Lent in our ascent with Jesus, so that we may experience his divine splendour and thus, confirmed in faith, persevere in our journey together with him, glory of his people and light of the nations.

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 25 January, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul


[00296-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]

Text source: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/02/17/0137/00296.html#inglese

A reflection from Sister Kylie Fowler

Sister Kylie Maria Fowler is a religious sister from Bendigo, Victoria and is currently serving in Tivoli, Italy. She recently visited our parish community. 

(Cover photo: Helen Fowler [Sr Kylie's mother], Fr Junjun PP, Sr Kylie Fowler)

Hello everybody, Fr. Adi invited me to write a short reflection about my recent visit to Australia, my vocation and a little bit about my consecrated family.

About my visit

I was blessed to make a visit to my home town of Bendigo and the parishes of Shepparton and Wodonga between the 26th of December and the 9th of January 2023. This was my second time home in the last four years. Prior to these visits, as a result of entering into consecrated life in Italy, during the year 2000, I had not returned to Bendigo for 19 years. For this reason, during my “recent visits” I was deeply moved to find myself emerged in my natural social and cultural environment, where I was able to connect with family, friends and our local Catholic communities. These simple experiences, founded in true Christian love, sharing, joy and liturgical celebration, provoked in me sentiments of gratitude and revived in me a deep sense of belonging. In reflecting upon this experience, I now understand that it is fruit of the Holy Spirit who according to God’s loving plan, creates in us, this deep connection with family, community and our wider culture. For this reason, I was touched by the joyful, generous and sincere welcome which was extended to me in the parish communities of Bendigo, Wodonga and Shepparton. I give thanks to our Lord for these little sanctuaries of Christian life, service, communion, love and friendship and thank the Priests, religious and lay people who welcomed me. 

It was also very special, for me to see and live amongst the Australian bush and country side, to hear sounds of birds which are distinctively Australian and be embraced by the vast and powerful silence of our land.

Morning tea with Sister Kylie
Morning tea with Sister Kylie

My Vocation

In relation to my vocation, as mentioned, I entered into Consecrated life within our Spiritual Family- The Franciscan Family of Mary Immaculate in Rome in the year 2000. This new beginning for me came at the conclusion of a long journey of human and spiritual searching, which had left me with the desire to discover my Catholic Christian spiritual roots and the foundations of Christian prayer life.

It was actually in India in the year of 1999 when I was 27 years old that I underwent a deep conversion, facilitated by a return to the sacraments and through living with some local Christian communities. Upon departing from India, I arrived quickly in Turkey where divine providence enabled me to meet the first sisters of our consecrated family at Mary’s house at Ephesus. This community of sisters, welcomed me with unconditional love and attention and upon listening to my story, they invited me to move onto Rome where I meet my Italian born mother Foundress – Maria Elisabeth Patrizi – on the Feast Day of Saint Maximillian Kolbe 14 august 2000. I was able to make a variety of experiences with our sisters in the months of July and August in that year and at their conclusion, I decided to remain in Italy so as to continue to discover the project that the Lord has always desired for me and was at that time revealing. These last 23 years have truly been a divine adventure.

Sr Kylie with some members of the Parish Community

Spirituality of our Consecrated Family

The spirituality of the Franciscan Family of Mary Immaculate which embraces sisters, brother and lay people, is deeply Marian and inspired in a particular way by Saint Maximillian Kolbe and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Drawing on both the Franciscan and Carmelite Spiritual traditions our spirituality is deeply contemplative whilst at the same time lived actively in the world. We have not one specific apostolate activity but are open to the variety of apostolate expressions which Mary herself calls us to. This is because, apart from making the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, we also profess a fourth vow of total consecration to Mary Immaculate. This vow invites us follow Mary’s example of docility to the Holy Spirit and to be loving instruments of her maternity. One of the first names given to our family by our mother foundress was “Universal sisters and brothers”, this was because together with Saint Maximillian Kolbe she desired ardently that our charism be expressed in all parts of the world so that Mary could guide all human beings to an experience of God’s love and the true happiness and peace that stems from this. Our charism is directed to the conversion and sanctification of all.  

It anybody is interested in making contact or knowing more about our Spiritual family or charism I invite you to please contact me. Sr. Kylie Fowler through Wodonga Catholic Parish.

United in prayer with Mary,

Sister Kylie           

Church in Australia mourns death of Pope Benedict XVI

The following news excerpt is taken from the ACBC Blog.
Photo credit: Pope Francis, left, embraces Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican, June 28, 2017. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB says Pope Benedict XVI will long be remembered fondly in Australia as the Pontiff who led young people from around the globe in prayer at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.

Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, led the Church from April 2005 until February 2013, becoming the first Pope in centuries to resign. He had earlier served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the Vatican’s most influential departments, for more than two decades.

Pope Benedict died in Rome, where he had lived since his papal retirement, on Saturday evening, Australian time.

Read the full article on Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Media blog.

Christmas Message 2022 from the Parish Priest

“Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” [Luke 2:15]

Each one of us has a ‘Bethlehem’ story, the place or moment where Jesus is so real and alive for us. This is our own Christmas story, our own Bethlehem.

But what does Christmas mean to us? To know this is to find our own Bethlehem.

For some, it is writing and sending Christmas cards and messages out to their loved ones. For some, it means Christmas shopping for parties and for presents. While for others, it is enjoying time with family and friends at Christmas dinners.

But Christmas is not just about giving a space in our minds and hearts for our brothers and sisters.

It is first and foremost giving a space to someone who makes us brothers and sisters in the first place- Jesus Christ, the reason for this season.

For the shepherds in the nativity story, it is not just listening to ‘the news of great joy’ but going out to see for themselves this wonderful news.

For the wise men from the East, it is not just to remain pondering on the beauty of the stars, but going out to seek the newborn king of the Jews to pay him rightful homage.

For Joseph, it is not just a dream. He has to get up and work to make that dream a reality.

For Mary, it is receiving the divine message with humility, being obedient to God’s will and treasuring these things in her heart.

In other words, Christmas is looking up to Christ. 

Furthermore, Christmas is celebrating Christ not just as Emmanuel (God-with-us), but as God-within-us.

So Christmas is also doing something for Christ and on behalf of Christ for others.

If Christ is God-within-us, we are to be God’s presence and present to one another.

As a present to one another, what kind of present are we? Are we a present that is worth treasuring in somebody’s heart?

As a Christmas message to one another, what message would we bring? Is it a message of joy, peace, hope, love?

Christmas is also a time of thanksgiving to God. Let us thank God for his amazing gift for us, the gift that never loses its value and significance to us- his only Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

As a way of gratitude to God, let us think of the many figures of the newborn Christ around us today. He is present in the last, the least and the lost. We need to be Christ-in-action for them.

As Mary and Joseph struggled to find an inn, there are many today who are homeless, because of the lack of affordable housing, or because of natural disasters, like floods, fire, earthquake, or those in war-torn countries. Let us support them with our prayers and in any way we can.

Like the child in the manger who is helpless, vulnerable and voiceless, there are many of our brothers and sisters who need our help, who need our personal care in their vulnerabilities and who need us to speak on their behalf, for they are not being heard or their voice is considered unimportant. Let us stay with Jesus for he knows so well the language of the helpless, the needy and the poor.

Finally, let us pray for ourselves that during this Christmas, we may find our true Bethlehem, by experiencing God’s personal care and love for us, by ourselves- being the presence of Christ and present that brings peace, joy, hope and love to others, especially to those in need.

Thanks to all of you in the parish who together journeyed and helped us get through another year in our Christian journey towards our eternal Bethlehem.

With peace and blessings from the Most High, Fr Uday and Fr Adi and I, we wish you all a blessed and a solemn Christmas celebrations.

And may we look back the past year with gratitude, celebrate the new year with joy and enthusiasm and look to the future with hope and optimism. Merry Christmas one and all!  

Fr Junjun 

Fr Junjun (Parish Priest), Fr Adi and Fr Uday (Assistant Priests)
Header image: Triptych of the Adoration of the Magi (1470 - 1472). Oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Safeguarding Sunday 2022

Safeguarding Sunday 2022

The Catholic Church in Australia marks Safeguarding Sunday (formerly Child Protection Sunday) on the second Sunday of September — at the conclusion of National Child Protection Week. Safeguarding Sunday seeks to acknowledge the immense damage caused by the sexual abuse of children and adults at risk, including by priests, religious and lay people within Catholic contexts. It makes a commitment to practices and protocols that create and maintain safe environments for all people. It invites people to pray for those harmed by abuse directly and indirectly.

Read more on the ACBC website.