BRISBANE priest Fr Jan Bialasiewicz’s “accidental” presence in Maroochydore parish on the weekend Daniel Morcombe disappeared in 2003 was to start him on a painful but ultimately inspirational journey with the missing boy’s family.
On Friday, December 7, nine years to the day after Daniel’s disappearance, the journey reached some sort of conclusion.
That was when Fr Bialasiewicz and Maroochydore parish priest Fr Joe Duffy concelebrated the boy’s requiem Mass at St Catherine of Siena Church, Sippy Downs, on the Sunshine Coast.
Inside the church were more than 900 mourners including Daniel’s mother and father Bruce and Denise Morcombe, his twin brother Bradley and his older brother Dean.
Outside were more than 1000 people including Daniel’s former classmates and dozens of State Emergency Service volunteers who helped unearth Daniel’s remains.
Some had travelled hundreds of kilometres to attend.
Hundreds of students from Siena College, the school Daniel had once attended, formed a guard of honour along with community members.
Among others present were Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, Police Minister Jack Dempsey, representing the Queensland Government, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Many of the mourners wore red to recall the colour of the T-shirt 13-year-old Daniel was wearing the day he disappeared.
Bruce Morcombe at the funeral told those gathered this was a time to welcome his son back to their family.
“A moment in time that will live with us all forever occurred nine years ago today,” he said.
“I appeal to you all, please do not be sad.
“Appreciate that the evil act which took Daniel happened a long time ago.
“Today is about embracing his return to family and being reflective of what might have been.”
Earlier, Denise Morcombe had placed on her son’s white coffin Christmas gifts he had never got to open and a Year 9 school report he would never read.
A committal hearing for Brett Peter Cowan, the man accused of murdering Daniel, is due to resume in February.
Speaking to The Catholic Leader after the funeral, Fr Bialasiewicz said his involvement in the tragedy had been “accidental” in the sense that he was relieving in Maroochydore parish on the weekend Daniel disappeared.
“Daniel’s parents, grandparents and a police officer, who also happened to be a parishioner, called in on the Sunday night he first went missing,” he said.
“We went to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Stella Maris Church to pray for the boy’s safe return.”
As the days of waiting for Daniel’s return turned into weeks, then months, then years, the Morcombes would contact Fr Bialasiewicz at times when there appeared to be “a light on the horizon”.
“At these times, there was always hope that something positive was about to happen,” he said.
“Then there would be more darkness and questions.
“Time and time again they had to fill their hearts with new hope and new faith to keep going.”
Fr Bialasiewicz said to witness the Morcombes’ “love, determination, hope and faith” throughout their ordeal had been a “humbling and inspiring experience”.
He said the Morcombe family did not have “the luxury” of a regular bereavement process of days or weeks, but had endured suffering and uncertainty about Daniel’s fate for nine years.
As assistant pastor in Ipswich several years ago, he watched as Daniel’s parents, having formed the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, visited local schools to educate children on ways to remain safe in a sometimes dangerous society.
He witnessed this same fortitude and determination at Daniel’s funeral.
“There was a sense of togetherness at his funeral,” Fr Bialasiewicz said. “The school holidays had started but the school, parish and wider community came together to support the Morcombes.
“I think in the end a very positive message emerged.
It was some sort of witness that we Catholics have some sorts of tools which can help us through such terrible events.”