THE election of Pope Francis and various other factors have been given as possible explanations for larger than usual numbers of worshippers attending Easter liturgies across Queensland this year.
Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville said Easter celebrations in the city’s Sacred Heart Cathedral had been “the most exciting and vibrant” he’d witnessed in his 12 years as bishop.
Maryborough parish priest Fr Paul Kelly said a noticeable increase in numbers attending Good Friday liturgies had been a feature of this year’s Easter ceremonies.
“I think the sufferings of Our Lord rings a bell with people after the disasters which hit the region earlier this year,” he said.
More than 1600 people packed into an Easter Sunday morning Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane, one of the largest crowds in several years.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane was reported to have said “it was too early to tell if Pope Francis had made any real impact yet”.
“I do think he has changed the mood and that’s surprised me and there’s something deeply refreshing about his style,” he said.
Wynnum parish priest Capuchin Father John Spiteri was “absolutely delighted” by the parish response to Easter, particularly as regards Confession.
“As many as 50 people attended Mass every day during Holy Week and this kept building, plus myself and another priest were flat out hearing Confessions especially on Holy Saturday morning from 10 till 12.30pm,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Surfers Paradise parish said the Sacred Heart Church at Clear Island was estimated to have had about 2000 people attending the 9am Easter Sunday Mass.
“This would be close to the biggest ever number at this Mass,” she said.
Bishop Robert McGuckin of Toowoomba in his first year as the city’s bishop was unable to make any comparisons with previous year’s Easter attendances.
“However, priests who have been in the diocese for many years said attendances were up on previous years,” he said.
“I certainly sensed a lovely spirit at all ceremonies right from the Chrism Mass.”
Bishop Putney said about 110 more people than last year had attended Good Friday ceremonies with as many as 100 more people at each of the other ceremonies starting with the Chrism Mass.
“Our cathedral is quite small so these numbers are significant,” he said.
Bishop Putney said while “everyone comes for their own reasons” clearly the election of the new Pope was a significant change over previous years.
“I’m noticing Catholics have a bounce in their step and a smile on their face whenever they mention the new Pope,” he said.
Fr Kelly, now in his ninth year as Mary-borough’s parish priest, said many businesses and families in the region were doing it tough after the Australia Day floods.
“Possibly this explains people’s greater need to come together for these ceremonies,” he said.
“We certainly saw this in the main church, St Mary’s, at Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross at 10am and the Passion of the Lord from 3pm.”
Fr Kelly said there seemed to be something of a “Pope Francis effect” as well.
“I’ve had several non-Catholics saying how impressed they were with him,” he said.
“One said ‘you know that guy could convert me’ and another said ‘he’s not just saying words, he really gets it’.”
Fr Spiteri was strongly pushing the message of participation in Holy Week and Easter events from about the third week in Lent.
“The Guardian Angels Church was full to capacity and even overflowing from Holy Thursday on,” he said.
“I put this down to the grace of the Holy Spirit and perhaps in some small way to my encouragement and invitation to attend.
“It’s wonderful to see, because the Easter ceremonies are the most important and greatest celebrations of the Church year.”
Fr Spiteri also said “the Holy Father’s messages of encouragement” would most likely have played a part in the participation of larger numbers of people in Easter ceremonies.
Bishop McGuckin said the people’s enthusiasm at Easter liturgies had been particularly noteworthy.
“I was particularly impressed at the congregation’s response when I said: ‘Christ is risen’,” he said.
“‘Christ is truly risen’, the congregation replied back, loudly and confidently.”