ARCHBISHOP Mark Coleridge of Brisbane launched Project Compassion 2013 by placing in a mission box what he described as “a bit of plastic”.
The “plastic” was a $100 note he had taken from his wallet.
“Of course it’s not only important to put money into boxes,” he told the large gathering in Queen Street Mall on the morning of Ash Wednesday, February 13.
“You must also put yourself into the suffering of those less fortunate than yourself.”
The Caritas appeal launch, now in its third year at Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, again proved both challenging and entertaining.
Guest speaker Marist Missionary Sister Julienne Hayes-Smith spoke of her Safe Motherhood Project in Bangladesh, made partly possible by funds raised through Project Compassion.
Prior to her Queen Street Mall appearance, Sr Hayes-Smith spoke on the project to a group of students from archdiocesan schools as far away as Jimboomba and Scarborough.
The students then took part in related craft activities at the Francis Rush Centre before walking to the Queen Street Mall together.
Brisbane musician and composer Michael Mangan led students from various Catholic schools in performing songs focussing on this year’s campaign theme “Opening the Doors to the Future”.
Among those also present at the launch were Caritas Australia’s chief executive officer Jack de Groot, Caritas’ Brisbane diocesan dirctor and Queensland regional engagement co-ordinator Joe Foley, Brisbane Catholic Education executive director Pam Betts and the archdiocese’s vicar general Monsignor Peter Meneely.
Mr de Groot took the opportunity to pay tribute to Pope Benedict XVI’s “extraordinary international leadership in addressing the issues of injustice and poverty and proclaiming an alternate vision based on the Gospel”.
He also referred to the Pope’s address to the Parliament of the United Kingdom at the height of the Global Financial Crisis in 2010.
“The Pope said the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw on to rescue financial institutions deemed too big to fail,” he said.
“The Pope went on to say surely integral development of the world’s people, particularly those in great poverty, is no less important.
“We at Caritas Australia on behalf of the Catholic community of this great city take the Pope’s words to heart that the poor, those who suffer injustice, those who are oppressed, are not to be forgotten.”
Mr de Groot gave examples of practical ways in which the annual Project Compassion appeal had helped Caritas Australia carry out its mission.
“In the last year we responded to 26 humanitarian crises, assisting 2.9 million people in times of desperate need,” he said.
“In the last 48 years through Project Compassion we have responded daily.”
The young people of the schools of the archdiocese of Brisbane present for the launch were also acknowledged.
“It’s tremendous to have them here to lead us in song but also to bring their attentive ears and imaginations to changing the world,” Mr de Groot said.
Sr Hayes-Smith, in her address, captured both the theme of this year’s Project Compassion and her work with the Safe Motherhood Project which she helped set up in Bangladesh more than 14 years ago.
“The theme is: ‘Opening the Doors to the Future’,” she said. “But we don’t have a future if we don’t survive birth.”
She said “every day in Bangladesh more than 40 women died in pregnancy or during delivery; also many infants would die in the first couple of days after birth.
“Ninety per cent or more of these deaths are completely preventable,” she said.
Sr Hayes-Smith’s response has been to set up programs to train women from remote, disadvantaged communities as midwives.
“I am proud to say no woman has died while in the care of these midwives trained by Caritas,” she said.
Archbishop Coleridge launched the Project Compassion campaign, noting “a number of firsts”.
“It’s my first launch as Brisbane’s new archbishop,” he said. “We also have a new director of Catholic Education, Pam Betts.
“Joe Foley is the new regional engagement officer for Caritas.
“And we will soon have a new Pope.”
The Archbishop said it was “pathetic” some old things had not changed.
“And one of the oldest is poverty which is still very much in the world,” he said.
“Some say that’s just the way the world is – but I want to say this is not true.
“This is not the way God meant it to be.”