Salvation Sunday  –  Brisbane  — 16 January 2011

Greetings and every blessing for this New Year.

I am in Brisbane because I simply could not sit on my hands in Sydney when so many of our brothers and sisters, many in our Passionist Family Groups, have suffered trauma throughout Queensland. I wanted to personally offer any help in whatever way possible.

It’s wonderful to be with Gwen & Russ Winterscheidt, Directors of our Passionist Family Group Movement in Qld. Gwen and Russ have been involved with Family Groups from the time they first joined one at St. Anthony’s, Terrey Hills back in the early 80’s.

Gwen, with fellow counselor, Lisa, had already been developing the idea of making “Baskets of Hope” to give to families affected by the floods. They are so similar to our Christmas Hampers with the personal touch of ‘family to family’.

We invaded Coles and made up two baskets complete with cleaning essentials and other household items, including surprises for the family.

On Saturday we took one of the Baskets of Hope to the local Family Group parish of All Saints at Albany Creek, on the suburban outskirts of Brisbane. Fr. Ron Mollisonn warmly welcomed Gwen and Russ who only recently moved into this parish. Gwen spoke effectively and lovingly at all the Masses with the Basket of Hope in front of her before the Lectern.

It was touching also because Russell’s father, Ken, had died recently, and his mother, Elizabeth, three weeks later. They were both buried from All Saints, their parish church where they were dearly loved. I could feel their presence in the church.

On this sad day, aptly called Salvation Sunday, Fr Ron made some telling points: “If we believe in a loving God we have many many questions in this tragedy, but if we don’t believe in a loving God, we have no answers.”

He concluded powerfully, “What our people need now are compassion and practical help; a listening heart and a shoulder to cry on.”

The response from the hearts of the people has been astounding. By the five pm Sunday Mass, there were already 31 large laundry baskets around the altar, full of practical goodies and little surprises such as perfume, chocolates and toys for the children. Teddy bears appeared in abundance.

Now 131 Baskets of Hope ….. and counting …….

Now 131 Baskets of Hope ….. and counting …….

I added several plastic yellow cricket bats and balls, explaining to the congregation that we needed to find young Aussie cricketers to give us ALL hope! Everybody laughed.

A very enthusiastic lady came up to us to help, saying that it reminded her of the great floods in The Congo because she was a Belgian, Congo-born French speaking lady! So we had to keep a straight face when she kept pronouncing, with an enormous smile on her face, “Baskets” in such a definite way as to render them all illegitimate!!

A Mother with two teenagers, the elder being an 18 year old youth, built like a big red bearded mountain and standing back as mountains do, came to me. The mother said that straight after Mass they were going to spend the day cleaning houses. In fact, they would be joining 50,000 other generous souls.

The image flashed before me of Jesus saying to each of those 50,000 people, “Welcome my brother. Welcome my sister.” I can see the startled look on their faces as they replied, “I don’t even know you” and Jesus answering with the warmest smile, “You came into my very home when I was desperate and broken and cleaned it. Now welcome Home yourself!”

As the mother and the two teenagers were about to leave me, I took their hands, the ‘man mountain’ gingerly offered his. I joined their hands together and said a little blessing.  “May you know that these, your hands, are sacred; as sacred as a priest’s at Mass. Your hands are the hands of a loving God. He has no hands but yours. Go and serve His People.”

I looked up at them and there were tears, even tears on the Mountain.

As regards our Baskets of Hope, we have already made contact with Coordinators and Priests in some of the severely affected areas. One of our original dedicated Family Group Coordinators, Desolie King was flooded for the second time. The last time was the great Brisbane flood of 1974. Thank God she has a very large family around her. God bless our families that we often take for granted.

On Wednesday we will go to the parish centre at Albany Creek and begin the distribution of the Baskets of Hope, person to person as with the Christmas Hampers.

Among the willing volunteers, a fine young man, Zach Woodward, came forward to offer himself and his hatchback. He is one of the outstanding Passionist Youth Team under the leadership of Fr. Ray Sanchez cp.

At the invitation of the Bishop of Rockhampton, Brian Heenan, I headed to the Parish of Bundaberg, the weekend after Salvation Sunday where I celebrated 3 Masses with Fr. John Daly, PP.

One of the founding members of Family Groups at St. Anthony in the Fields, Terrey Hills,was Helen Mackie. Helen is now the Family Group Coordinator at Bundaberg and has been instrumental in helping the distribution of the “Baskets of Hope”.

Loving thanks from the bottom of my ‘renewed’ heart for all your prayers and cards during my heart surgery, followed by my birthday and then Christmas. It’s good to now be back in the saddle!

As you can see, I am playing a straight bat.

Your loving brother,