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Christian Brother Damien Price is praying to see the world anew with loving ‘Christchurch eyes’

Praying for peace: High school students praying at a March 18 vigil for victims of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prayer services are being held across the country and abroad after two mosque attacks in Christchurch on March 15 that left at least 50 people dead and dozens seriously injured. Photo: CNS

AS I write, the tragedy of Christchurch is still fresh with us all. 

Our Christian Brothers’ community in Christchurch is not that far from the mosque where God wept.

Events like this, the legal events in Melbourne, the building of walls on the border with Mexico and the small daily pains of our own lives can often cause us to lose hope, that greatest of virtues.

Have you a favourite movie or scene from a movie? 

On April 11, 1890, Joseph Merrick was found dead in his hospital room. 

Almost 100 years later director David Lynch made the now famous movie The Elephant Man about him.

Starring Anthony Hopkins as Dr Frederic Treves and John Hurt as Joseph Merrick the movie follows the journey of the badly physically deformed Merrick from poverty, rejection and abuse to tolerance, acceptance and dignity. 

Dr Treves, a Victorian England surgeon, saw past the monstrous façade of layers of disfiguring tumours to the sensitive, intelligent, poetic person within. 

In a poignant scene Merrick is chased by a mob until cornered in a dead-end where in the midst of howling abuse he cries out, “I am not an animal!” 

For many long years after the death of his mother and the physical abuse of his father Merrick was the chief exhibit in a freak show in Leicester. 

Known as “the Elephant Man”, Joseph’s life was full of misery and rejection.

Finally his “case” came to the attention of a London doctor Treves who offered life’s greatest treasures – acceptance, dignity and self-worth.

One of the jewels of our Catholic faith – also shared by all the great religious traditions – is our belief in the innate dignity of all.

In our Catholic tradition we talk about someone being the temple of God’s Holy Spirit.

Oh for the eyes to see this, the heart to honour it and the arms to wrap around and embrace it.

This is the gift of faith that on life’s journey we long for – those eyes, and heart and arms! People like Frederic Treves and Frederic Ozanam – the founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society – grew to have these eyes that saw beauty in the most unlikely of places.

But the cause of our hope is that they are not alone – these see-ers who see beyond to the beauty and dignity of the other.

Teresa of Kolkata would caress the broken and dying on the streets while Fred Hollows looked into the eyes of love hundreds of times each day in remote Aboriginal communities and Sr Anne Jordan has opened the door of the Cana Community in Sydney to the homeless, thousands of times bowing and seeing gift every time she did. 

I can still remember Charlie Scott who used to work on the street van with me wrapping his arms around those whom so many rejected on many a cold winter’s night at the edge of King George Square, and on one crazy night Julian Barnes gave away his expensive Wallabies jersey to one of our “guests” “Because he was cold and it was only just a jersey!”, having eyes as he did that I could only long for! 

My own father did his own version of “Driving Miss Daisy” as he drove to Meals on Wheels and the Vinnies shop in Proserpine, and Mercy Sister Nora Fitzgibbon sat many a night guitar in hand at singalongs in Woorabinda Aboriginal Community, both seeing with special eyes and reaching out with “his” hands. 

And it is often far from pretty, nor was Joseph Merrick.

How and what do the Orange Sky lads see as they wash the clothing of the homeless in dignified reciprocal relationship, and what and how did Fr Peter Carrucan see when he would fly to Christmas Island to sit with and be with those behind razor wire? 

What did St Teresa of Kolkata and the Dalai Lama see as they clasped hands together in the prayer pose and bow to all whom they met? 

Whatever they saw – Frederic Treves and Frederic Ozanam saw it too.

Our journey in the aftermath of Christchurch will be to long for and pray for these same eyes. 

We don’t love the other because we see Jesus in them.

We love because we and they and all and other are one love – a divine oneness of dignity and awe. 

Let us ask daily for the eyes, ears, hands, feet and heart to deeply encounter love – Christ – in all the faces of our day. 

Let us pray for these eyes, then tragedies like Christchurch will not happen – rather all who walk this beautiful Earth will bow low to the other and in bowing to “other” will come to know a peace this world cannot give (John 14: 27).

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