BRISBANE Archbishop John Bathersby launched this year’s Project Compassion in Queen Street Mall on Ash Wednesday. Journalist PAUL DOBBYN reports on the event
WORD that Archbishop of Yangon Charles Bo had asked after the wellbeing of Queenslanders in the wake of January and February’s devastating floods and cyclone was a poignant moment at this year’s launch of Project Compassion in the heart of Queen Street Mall on Ash Wednesday.
Many present would have recalled that Archbishop Bo’s archdiocese, as part of Myanmar (formerly Burma), is still struggling to recover from Cyclone Nargis which devastated huge sections of the country in 2008 leaving more than 138,000 dead and more homeless.
Caritas Australia chief executive officer Jack de Groot passed on the archbishop’s good wishes as an example of “human solidarity” in suffering.
“I acknowledge 2011 hasn’t started in Queensland the way we would have hoped,” he said.
“I assure everyone that you are in the hearts, minds and prayers of Caritas network throughout the world.”
Special guests at this first launch of Project Compassion from Queen Street Mall included the honorary consul general of Nepal Michael Wille, Bhutan’s honorary consul Lenore Guthrie-Wille, retired Brisbane Bishop John Gerry and Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care acting director Fr Sylvester Karasiuk.
Guest speaker, Caritas Nepal executive director Fr Silas Bogati, cut a striking figure with his brightly coloured and unusually shaped traditional hat and national symbol of his country – the dhaka topi.
Other speakers included Archbishop John Bathersby and Mr Wille.
Among launch highlights were a spirited role play by Queensland Academy Creative Industries to challenge all present to give generously to Project Compassion and a rousing sing-along by students of St Dympna’s School, Aspley to the song Common Ground written and performed by Brisbane musician and composer Michael Mangan.
The compelling speeches and singing stopped many late morning passers-by in the mall.
Students from 15 Catholic schools throughout Brisbane attended including San Sisto College Carina, Brigidine College, Indooroopilly, Lourdes Hill, Hawthorne, St Anthony’s, Kedron, Jubilee School, Gaven and St Stephen’s, Algester.
Caritas Australia’s Queensland diocesan director Patricia Ryan opened the launch and introduced Archbishop Bathersby.
Acknowledging the many enthusiastic students from Brisbane schools present, the archbishop said it was “hard to believe I was once where you are 75 years ago”.
“Our Christian faith brings with it a challenge to reach out to the poor and needy,” he said.
Archbishop Bathersby said Australia was a country of many blessings and as such had an obligation to share this good fortune.
He expressed confidence in the generosity of Australians “which has already been seen in the help given to other Australians through floods and fires”.
Fr Bogati opened his speech with the word “Namaste” which he said was a familiar greeting in countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
“The word means, ‘I bow to the divine spirit that is in you – seeing God that is in all of us’,” he said.
The parish priest of Kathmandu’s Assumption parish said a primary reason for his visit was to thank the Australian people and Caritas Australia for their ongoing support of Nepal.
Fr Bogati also revealed in his speech the following facts about Nepal:
– The country with a population of around 28 million has some 30 per cent living below poverty line who subsist on a monthly income of $12 a month
– 80 per cent live in rural areas where food security is a major challenge given miniscule land holdings of around 0.8 hectares per family on average
– Around half Nepal’s children are malnourished and only about 15 per cent of the general population have access to good health care
– Some 7000 of the country’s young women are being trafficked into sex slavery in countries such as India and to the Gulf nations
– The country is seeking to recover from decade-long conflict which left at least 12,000 dead and 200,000 displaced and a large amount of infrastructure destroyed.
He said that thanks to Caritas programs such as farming schools the quality of life of many Nepalese had improved.
Mr Wille spoke of having seen Fr Bogati’s work “first hand”.
“Your work has helped many thousands improve their quality of life through improved education and more efficient food production,” he said.
“On behalf of the government of Nepal I would like to publicly thank you for your tireless efforts.” Mr de Groot said the event location provided “a marvellous opportunity to be in the heart of Brisbane as we launch Project Compassion…hearing stories of inequality we are moved by stories of hope today”.
He reminded all gathered, “that during Lent you all have the opportunity to make real the Gospel call”.
“Be sure your generous donations make a huge difference,” Mr de Groot said.
“People you help are not passive recipients of your charity but are empowered to change their lives and their societies.”
Finally an invitation was made to all present to finish the launch of Project Compassion 2011 with Ash Wednesday Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral.