HELL has touched Sydney, but the darkness let loose on a terrorised city cannot overcome the light of Christ, Archbishop Anthony Fisher said at a special Mass yesterday (December 16) after a siege in the city’s CBD ended in tragedy in the early hours of the morning.
A lone gunman had taken 17 people hostage in a café in Martin Place, killing two before being shot by police.
Catholic News Service reported that the atmosphere at the Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral was sombre as government leaders arrived.
Among those attending were Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“Today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent ‘hostages’ along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more,” Archbishop Fisher said in his homily before the hundreds, Catholic and non-Catholic, who had gathered to pray.
“We went to bed hoping to wake to good news. But despite patient efforts to maintain calm and negotiate, there were, in the early hours of this morning, flashes of gunfire, intervention by our police to save lives, merciful escapes, but finally death. Hell had touched us.”
Sydney archdiocese’s communications office reported that Archbishop Fisher offered the Mass for the victims of the siege and their families, survivors, police and emergency workers, and civic and political leaders.
In his welcome to the congregation, he said: “I invite continuing prayer for peace, healing and generosity to our neighbours after this tragic event, in solidarity with people of all faiths in our blessed city of Sydney and country of Australia.”
Archbishop Fisher said “only history will tell how much 16 December 2014 will affect our attitudes, behaviour, life-style”.
“But today the heart of our city is broken by the deaths of two innocent ‘hostages’ along with their tormentor, the injuries of four others and trauma to many more, the paralysis our city has experienced this day past,” he said.
“One of the deceased was Katrina Dawson, a mother of three young children and gifted barrister, presumably on her way to chambers for another day’s service of her clients. The other, Tori Johnson, was the young manager of the café, likewise intent on serving his customers.
“And the third was Man Haron Monis the perpetrator of this nightmare. Much is still unclear about him, his motivations and affiliations, and we must avoid too quickly jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers.
“We are used to living in a peaceful, tolerant, secure society in which people may enter a café and order a hot chocolate without fear … For such ease of living, such assumptions of safety, to be so radically challenged can be disorienting and harden our hearts. The risk is that we become cautious, cynical, suspicious of our neighbours, or worse, that we turn on them. In the process we undermine what we most love about our Australian way of life.”
Archbishop Fisher, in talking about the tragedy in light of the Christmas season we are preparing to celebrate, said “the backdrop to the Light who will dawn for us at Christmas is in fact darkness”.
“The Way, the Truth and the Life comes to people who often lose their way, to a civilisation sometimes more comfortable with lies than truth, to what is often a culture of death more than of life,” he said.
“The Christ is threatened from the moment of His birth until the violence of this world finally catches up with Him on the cross. And our world today is every bit as mixed up as it was at the first Christmas.
“There’s plenty of talk of human rights, the dignity of the person, equal respect and care. We are replete with resources, technology and know-how to help people through troubled times. Yet innocent people are threatened the world over and a little bit of what is commonplace in the region of Christ’s birth has even come to Martin Place. Christmas, we think, is supposed to be different – but in a sense it was always like this.
“Yet we Christians believe that the Babe of Bethlehem is the Prince of Peace, God-with-us, God-one-of-us, God-saving-us. So why, if the Prince of Peace has come, do these terrible things keep happening? Perhaps the answer is in the first Christmas carol, when the angels sang ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those of good will.’
“The God who saves still leaves men free. They choose whether to be of good will or not. The Christ-child proposes peace, again and again; He gives us the wherewithal to be reconciled and live peaceably with our neighbours; but in the end we choose whether to live in His kingdom, by His values.
“Is the joy, love and peace of Christmas really possible? Or do we have to adopt a more ‘realistic’ posture, more cynical and self-protective? Do we have to buy into the endless cycles of violence and recrimination? Do we have to take our own hostages?
“Reports have emerged this morning of the heroism of the male victim of the siege. Apparently seeing an opportunity, Tori grabbed the gun. Tragically it went off killing him, but it triggered the response of the police and eventual freedom for most of the hostages.
“Reports have also emerged that Katrina Dawson was shielding her pregnant friend from gunfire. These heroes were willing to lay down their lives so others might live, imitating the sacrifice of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for each other (John 15:13).
“Now spontaneous tributes are appearing in Martin Place and on the Internet. Leaders of all religious, political and ethnic backgrounds are calling for calm, for prayer, for support for each other. Services are being offered for the victims, their families and friends.
“The darkness need not overcome the light. Indeed, the Christmas-Easter-Christian message is: it cannot!
“There is something greater than hatred and violence. There is Love, that humble, self-donative Love that comes in the shape of the Christmas Babe, the Prince of Peace. He can soften the hardest hearts. He can convert the most hardened sinner.
“Come Prince of Peace. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”