Just last week I was in the Philippines for the first time, down in Cebu in the middle of the country. In some ways it is another planet compared to anything we know here in Brisbane. One of the things that was seriously confronting was the kind of poverty I saw there on the streets of the city. This is a poverty which is not known only in Cebu but in many of the cities and towns of that country. It is confronting and when you see it you can feel powerless. Kids may come and beg and I can offer them a coin; that in itself is a good thing but it is hardly going to the root of the problem. Why in a country like the Philippines do you see this appalling poverty on one of the streets of the biggest cities? Even if you could answer that question the next one becomes “what am I going to do about it?” Do you just shrug your shoulders and look the other way as you jump on the plane and fly back to Australia? No is the answer we give that question today. There is something that you and I can do; in fact “can” becomes “must” as we set forth on the journey of Lent and Project Compassion.
The theme of Project Compassion for this year is “Learning More, Creating Change” and what’s the first thing you can do? To learn a bit more of what’s going on out there; don’t just look the other way and say that you’re not interested. You have to learn, which requires you to listen to the stories of people who are suffering from the scourge of poverty. Some of these are even on our own shores but many of them are elsewhere. Most of the world is shockingly poor. We don’t see it in Brisbane but that doesn’t change the fact; so we have to learn more of what the truth of things is out there. We have to listen to the stories of real people like Marie, who is here with us as Ambassador from Papua New Guinea. Listen to these people’s stories – they are human beings like you and me. They are just as entitled to all the things that make life worthwhile and truly dignified. Once you begin to learn more about what’s going on in the world, and surely our Catholic schools exist for that and not to create a cocoon of comfort and unreality, then you can create change. It’s nothing magical but it will take blood, sweat and tears and it’s hard to think of anything in life that is more worthwhile. Unfortunately the world in reality is not the world that God had in mind when the world was created; it is seriously out of kilter. You know something is badly wrong when so few have so much of the world’s goods and so many have so little or nothing. Once you say that you commit yourself to doing something about it.
This Year of Mercy, to which Pope Francis has summoned the whole church young and old, is a year of action because before all else ‘mercy” is about doing something. The Pope has talked a great deal in recent days about “works of mercy”, therefore it is clear it is not just a feeling or a disposition of heart. It involves actually doing something and one of the most important works of mercy in this part of the world is what we call Project Compassion, which we launch here today. In it we commit ourselves to action for the sake of change, and insofar as we do that we act in the name of Jesus himself. This is what the church is all about – not doing its own thing but doing the thing of Jesus. With Jesus it is one way traffic – he says to us when you put on a meal or a party don’t invite those who can pay you back…invite instead the people who can’t pay you back like the poor, the blind and the lame. It can seem crazy but what we offer through Project Compassion isn’t just a shrewd investment because that’s not the way God works. We give not in order to get, but rather we give in order to give; in order to give; in order to give. If this is what we say “yes” to today we are saying yes to the works of Jesus, which are the works of mercy not just here and now but always and everywhere.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge