WHEN Deacon Peter de Haas had an idea to write a practical handbook for Catholics geographically isolated from everyday parish life, he never imagined needing to refer to his advice weeks after it arrived from the printers.
In 2016 the permanent deacon for Cairns diocese started writing a handbook based on his experience of providing spiritual and pastoral support to isolated Catholics in the vast Gulf Savannah Parish, in north west Queensland.
“It quickly became obvious that many had missed out, for entire generations. on the parish-based liturgical and pastoral life of our Church so many in our towns and cities take for granted,” Deacon de Haas said.
For example, one parishioner had been baptised in the Catholic Church but didn’t know if she had received any other sacraments and had no knowledge of basic prayers.
“Her experience is by no means unusual in these very remote areas,” Deacon de Haas said.
It took three years to write and publish the book, titled A Practical Field Guide for Bush Catholics…and Bushed Catholics.
The guide reviews essential tenets of the Catholic faith, as well as offering some “proven practices” that have supported countless Christians over the centuries to personally encounter God, even in isolation.
There are also family-friendly “do-it-yourself Liturgies of the Word” including a non-sacramental Easter liturgy “people can just do at home” and a liturgy for praying with the dying.
It has received an imprimatur from Cairns Bishop James Foley.
“I really believe that God has led me to write it and has inspired me throughout,” Deacon de Haas said.
“Along the way, it occurred to me that much of the content would also be relevant to others who are isolated for any reason whatsoever from the mainstream life of the church, hence the somewhat tongue-in-cheek addition of ‘bushed Catholics’ to the title.”
After some unforeseen delays, the first printed copies of Deacon de Haas’s book arrived only three weeks ago, and the timing seems nothing short of a divine intervention.
Two days ago, Deacon de Haas and his wife, Angela de Haas, put their family into self-isolation “for an indefinite period” to protect their daughter, Alicia, from COVID-19.
Alicia has Down Syndrome, and as a result lives with a congenital heart defect and has oxygen levels “which would see the rest of us in ICU”.
Contracting COVID-19 would be life-threatening for her.
“We just can’t take the risk and we would feel terrible if through waiting too long something were to happen to her,” Deacon de Haas said.
At the same time, dioceses around Australia were suspending Sunday Masses and dispensing Catholics from their Sunday Mass obligations – in other words, the faithful were all becoming Deacon de Haas’s “bushed Catholics”.
“The timing of this book is either bizarre or it’s God’s plan,” Deacon de Haas said.
“I’m just gobsmacked. I didn’t for one minute think I’d ever be a bushed Catholic myself.
“Even more so, not in my wildest dream, could I or anyone else, have foreseen what is happening today, that our parishes have essentially been shut down and that in a very real sense, all Catholics in many dioceses are now ‘bushed’, meaning, in the context of my book ‘cut off from the traditional, parish-centred life of our Church for whatever reason’.
“We are all living in very stressful and very uncertain times where everything that was normal only a few weeks ago, has been turned upside down.
“This practical field guide could be something just for these challenging times, of some possible use for Catholics in isolation in the coming weeks or months.
“Perhaps it might be a helpful companion to nurture spirituality and even to enrich relationships with Christ, from whom we can never be separated.”
Deacon de Haas said his local Anglican priest had already bought four copies of the book.
Any profits from the sale of the book will support the work being done in isolated regions of the Cairns diocese.
A Practical Field Guide for Bush Catholics…and Bushed Catholics is available online at echobooks.com.au/religion/bushed-catholics/.