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The Community Leader Award nominations

Fair wage patron from Cairns named papal knight

Papal knight

Award winner: Papal nuncio Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, Brian Lawrence, his wife Elizabeth Proust and Cairns Bishop James Foley.

FAMILY justice champion Brian Lawrence has developed a slight wardrobe dilemma since being named a papal knight.

The near-retiring lay Catholic, married to administration and business leader Elizabeth Proust, is not sure how to wear the uniform for knights of the Order of Pope St Sylvester in his Cairns home.

“I have to wonder what a knight should wear in tropical Cairns,” Mr Lawrence said.

“Surely not an open-neck shirt or shorts, and I rarely wear long trousers in Cairns.”

The new knight of the Order of Pope St Sylvester, one of the Church’s five pontifical orders of knighthood, received his black ornamented uniform, medal, ribbon and sword when he was presented the honour on November 25.

Australia’s papal nuncio Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, acting on behalf of Pope Francis, presented the honour to Mr Lawrence.

The “surprised” chairman of the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations, had never heard of the order until Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart called him while he was tending to his vegetable garden.

Mr Lawrence said he was honoured to receive such recognition from Pope Francis, who had been an inspiration to him during his work with ACCER.

He said he often made reference to “field hospitals”, an analogy Pope Francis had used to describe how the modern Church should look, when talking about fair wages for families.

“The work I’ve been doing with ACCER to try and create fair wages for families has been removed from field hospitals,” he said.

“The St Vincent de Paul Society is a great field hospital, because there you find victims of the economic system that need help and get help, but it’s not sufficient.

“We need to look at the economic system and ask why it’s inadequate and create a more just economic system.

“These are things successive popes have talked about for centuries, and Pope Francis has given a great emphasis on this in given times.”

Mr Lawrence said the honour of knighthood was not about him but his work in generating a “more just economic system” which supported Australian families.

“I was quite pleased but I believe I have been rewarded it as recognition of the volumes of work I have been doing for the past ten years promoting Catholic social teaching to a range of matters including lifting the minimum wage,” he said.

Despite the papal honour, Mr Lawrence said more campaign work was needed to ensure employees, especially parents with young children, were in a safe social net.

“That’s the important area, support for families,” he said.

“The main argument with minimum-wage cases in the past few years is that the minimum wages set, that is the national minimum wage, and fair pay, are not sufficient to keep families above the poverty line.”

The Order of Pope St Sylvester is usually reserved to honour lay people, and can also be given to a non-Catholic.

By Emilie Ng

Catholic Church Insurance

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