Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Letter From Australia

Andrew, my friend in Sydney, sends another installment:

Yesterday, some 10,000 (mainly) young pilgrims arrived at Sydney Airport, its busiest day since the 2000 Olympic Games. All told, 500,000 extra people are expected in Sydney this week, and I am consequently working from home to avoid the road closures in the CBD where I normally work. It is delightful to see the unbridled enthusiasm of the pilgrims, and to me augurs well for the Church. Guitars are very much in evidence, with a lot of apparently spontaneous singing and dancing.

Some wag wrote a letter to the paper last week saying that individually he liked young people, was not averse to religious enthusiasm and was partial to guitar playing, but the combination of all three was the very definition of annoying and irritating behaviour!

Predictably, a major scandal broke late last week, with a man being interviewed at length on television and in print about being raped by a priest in the early 80's. As far as I can see, nobody is disputing the facts; in essence the scandal relates to Cardinal Pell's handling of the case, apparently taking a view that it was consensual and communicating this in writing to the victim when he should have been aware this was not the case. The good Cardinal as you probably already know, has a hardman reputation, refusing to give communion to homosexuals and so on, but the timing of this scandal, on the eve of the Pope's visit is strongly suggestive of a classic media beat up.

However, Cardinal Pell seems to have weathered the storm with some humility and promises to re-open the case. Yesterday, he took lunch with the Holy Father in the Opus Dei retreat in Kenthurst (NE Sydney) where he is resting for a couple of days before what promises to be a full on week.

One of the most heart warming stories of the week is how the Malik Fahd Islamic school in Sydney has opened its doors to host 300 Catholic pilgrims in their school hall, and a gesture of ecumenical tolerance and friendship. This sort of ray of sunshine gives me great hope for the future. And of course people of all faiths have been warmly welcomed to participate in WYD.

Now for some humour....

So far nobody has been prosecuted for annoying behaviour (although some have taken to handing out free condoms to the pilgrims). One of the reasons the Police are said to have requested special powers is because they ended up being humiliated during the APEC summit, when a team from the Chaser (a satirical programme on the ABC whose stock in trade is to poke fun at pomposity wherever it exists) pretended to be a Canadian motorcade and got within a few yards of President Bush's (closed off) hotel. They chose Canada on the grounds that nobody would query Canada having a 3 car motorcade, some cast members ran alongside like Security people (complete with fake badges very prominently labelled "INSECURITY") and one of their number dressed up as Osama Bin Laden inside one of the cars. By all accounts they were more surprised than anyone to be waved through three separate Police checkpoints, and outed themselves before getting to Bush's hotel by getting out of the car. The Police charged them with various breaches, but the case was thrown out. Of course there was no ban on annoying behaviour at that event, and the authorities did not like their vaunted security being shown to be less than watertight in the face of a few comedians!

The great Australian prank (often with political overtones) has a long and proud history. At the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930's an Irish nationalist cut the ribbon ahead of the state Premier.

During the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, there was a torch relay which came through Sydney. The Lord Mayor and the City's Great and Good were assembled on the steps of Town Hall, with about 20,000 cheering onlookers when the runner came out of the crowd bearing the torch which he ceremoniously handed to the Lord Mayor. His Lordship cleared his throat, only to be told "It's not the torch". It was in fact a chair leg to which had been nailed a cake tin containing a burning pair of kerosene soaked underpants. The perpetrator had by this time melted into the crowd, leaving lots of outraged harrumphing in his wake. Apparently it was a protest against the Nazi origins of the torch relay.

And when Pope Paul VI visited Sydney in the 1970's he gave an address at the Press Club, in which no questions were permitted. Half way through, a message came across the PA system "Mr Montini, your taxi awaits you outside". Again, cue harrumphing. I don't think they ever found the perpetrator. Highly disrespectful, but also very funny.

Stop press: the Federal Court today overturned the NSW temporary law making annoying behaviour an offence on the grounds that is is unconstitutional. For more details, read here:. Once again the state government of NSW gets it wrong!


Anonymous said...

Loved the story of the taxi announcement for 'Mr Montini.' A great prank - I do hope Pope Paul found it amusing too!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Re the Harbour Bridge opening, the fellow who cut the ribbon before Premier Lang was Captain (Retd) de Groot, an Orangeman and a member of the pseudo-militia New Guard. His primary objection was that the Bridge should have been opened by the (Royal) Governor, not the Premier - a subject that has been widely and well debated in the context of the Great Depression and Premier Lang's proximate actions, leading to his dismissal. However, to describe Capt de Groot as an Irish nationalist would be no doubt deeply surprising to both him and to his opponents. My father (an altar boy at St Mary's Cathedral at the time) was there wagging school at the time and reminds me often of the incident. Needless to say, he regards Capt de Groot as as a very serious villain indeed, although he did use a cavalry sabre and declared the Bridge open in the name of the King. At least both sides have a great story to tell of that day.