If you thought your Christmas was busy, spare a thought for priests sharing the faith with Catholics in the western reaches of Queensland. This is Roma parish priest Father Jamie Collins’ diary from the Christmas season.
CHRISTMAS Masses in the communities around Roma, Mitchell, Wallumbilla and Surat begin the Friday before Christmas Day.
Friday, December 20 2013 is the gathering for families from properties around the Wycombe District, situated on the Maranoa-Balonne Shire boundary, roughly half way between Roma and St. George.
Mass is held outdoors in the front yard of John and Therese Stewart. On this night there is a great gathering of families from neighbouring properties that have come together to celebrate mass and to join in the festive spirit.
John and Therese have four children who have grown over the years I have been celebrating Mass in the district.
The eldest, Kiersten, is employed locally in Saint George.
Daniel has just completed Year 12 at Downlands College in Toowoomba, where younger brother Harrison continues to board.
Charlie, the youngest, goes to a local primary school.
It has been another hard, dry year for local graziers who are appreciative of the prayers for rain.
Gatherings for Mass at Wycombe over the years have interrupted by snakes and sheep.
During the night, right on queue – as if rehearsed – a chorus of kookaburras joined in as I played the song, Christmas in the Scrub off the CD released at Christmas by the Catholic Education Office.
As the children sang of Kangaroos hopping, cockatoos squawking and kookaburras laughing we were joined by the real thing.
John’s father, Henry Stewart, recently celebrated 50 years on the property at Wycombe.
Together with his wife, Donna Stewart, who is mayor of the Balonne Shire, are well respected in the district and generous contributors to community life.
I stay with John and Therese for the night who have a “full house”, and then head off for Christmas mass at Yuleba on the Saturday morning.
Saturday December 21: The trip to Yuleba takes me through Surat and along the last Cobb and Co route in Australia, which ran from Surat to Yuleba – a fact that is acknowledged and celebrated by way of a large Cobb and Co Changing Station and Museum in the main street of Surat.
Along the way to Yuleba I’m listening to Phil Smith on ABC Radio who plays the poignant Paul Kelly song, How to Make Gravy about a man in prison who is missing being with his family at Christmas.
My thoughts turn to those who are in such a situation and to those who are separated from family at Christmas.
The hospitality of Wycombe meant that I overstayed, which meant that my arrival at Yuleba was right on time, pulling into the front of the church just as the ABC news theme was about to roll.
The half a dozen cars at the front of the church meant a good Christmas attendance – well more than the usual three or four who attend each month.
The Murphy family are strong in number.
Owen and Jeanette Murphy celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary during the last 12 months.
They are looking forward to all their children returning to Yuleba for Christmas Day. Daughter-in law, Olivia Murphy, reads an account of the Christmas story that is taken in by her young family.
At Yuleba, my thoughts turned to my grandfather’s brother, Jack Collins, who was a Railway Station Master at Yuleba for many years.
When he retired and moved away in 1987 he left a box of books that today remain in a suitcase under the bed in the sacristy at the back of the Yuleba Church.
Sunday December 22: Sunday begins with the parish Mass at All saints Church in Roma for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
We placed the fourth lamp on the lamp stand under our Advent Wreath.
These lamps have been placed each week and have symbolised the light of justice, peace, creation and compassion in our preparation for Christmas.
Beside the wreath, we have an Advent banner displaying the formation of the Southern Cross as an Australian symbol of Advent.
The fifth smaller star will be placed on the banner on Christmas morning to complete the shape of the Southern Cross.
After Mass in Roma, I am off to Injune for their Christmas Mass.
Cassandra Sorenson is in charge of the CD player and has some great Christmas Music for the four children and fourteen adults present.
For some years the Injune community have shared one church building as the gathering place for the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Denominations.
The fourth Sunday of the month is always the Catholic turn for the celebration of Mass, so the December gathering becomes the Christmas liturgy for the whole community.
The time was changed from the afternoon to a morning gathering to enable me to attend the Carols by Candlelight in Roma.
Back in Roma, it was my pleasurable duty to welcome the crowd to the Carols by Candlelight as the Chair of the Local Combined Churches.
A feature this year’s program was the two carols sung by the Filipino Choir.
During their performance, a collection was taken for the recovery work undertaken by Caritas Australia in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. $577 was collected.
Monday December 23: Monday begins with a morning Mass at Pinaroo, an aged persons hostel in Roma.
The total number of family, friends and residents made about 25.
A special moment was the entrance during the entrance during the liturgy of Lil Kennedy – now in her mid-90’s – who joined in the spontaneous Prayer of the Faithful.
With trademark genuine and heartfelt sincerity, Lil drew upon the wisdom of her years to pray for others in need at this Christmas time.
It was good too that her brother, Bob Barlow, could be there at this special moment. The Mass also included the Anointing of the Sick that is part of the Easter and Christmas messes at Pinaroo.
The afternoon saw the trek over to Surat – the community that is “ground zero” of what is known locally as the “Tinsel Trail.”
In all directions from Surat residents decorate the mailboxes and entrances of their properties with Christmas themed decorations.
In the town of Surat, residents embrace the tinsel spirit.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas civic minded members of the community tinsel-bomb the town.
From the bridge at the town’s entrance and along the main thoroughfare, every street sign, light pole and tree is decked out with tinsel, ribbons and bows.
The gate and fence at the entrance to the churchyard was even decked out with tinsel this year.
After Mass, parishioners stayed on for a barbecue, which was a great Surat tradition in years gone by.
Cooking the sausages was Daniel Rollinson who marries his fiancée Allison prior to Easter next year.
This is certainly an exciting time for the Rollinsons as they prepare for the big day in April.
Community stalwart, Thea Penrose, also reported that her daughter recently graduated in Accounting with exceptionally results.
The number of young children in the Christmas Mass by way of reading, signing and offering prayers impressed many of the older parishioners with their enthusiasm.
Tuesday December 24: Christmas Eve. The morning of Christmas Eve is filled with the fun and laughter of the families of the Roma parish taking part in the children’s presentation of the Christmas Story on Christmas morning.
There is a final rehearsal and Carmel Treasure has the children finely tuned.
It will certainly be a highlight of the Liturgy on Christmas Day.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I’m joined by good friend and parishioner, Terry Pulsford, who is joining me for the travel to the Christmas Masses at Mungallala and Mitchell.
Today Terry has brought his daughter, Lucy Pulsford, to help share the driving, as she needs to get some hours on her learner driver’s log book.
The roadworks have seen big delays in travelling to Mitchell in recent months, however today is all plain sailing, except for the goats, sheep, emus, kangaroos and birds feeding off the carcases and other roadkill that litter the Warrego Highway.
At Mungallala we celebrate Mass in the Beer Garden of the Mungallala Hotel.
Margaret Bell reports that it has been a busy time for the hotel over the last couple of months with all the road workers staying at the pub while the road reconstruction is taking place following the floods of recent years.
During Mass, multiple emergency service vehicles pass through the town heading west.
The sight is a reminder to all of the dangers on the roads at this time of year and of the role of police, fire and ambulance personnel in responding to emergency situations. We depart Mungallala to trek back to Mitchell, where a gathering is taking shape for the Christmas Vigil Mass.
Marg Noon greets us at the sacristy door as she is setting up for Mass.
Although she now lives in Mitchell, after Mass she will take the drive down to the Dunkeld District to the family property for Christmas with the extended family.
At the end of Mass the leader of the parish team, Donna Burke, thanks all for their support throughout the year.
The Mass at Mitchell concludes with the children handing out some lollies and then we are off to Wallumbilla, via Roma and stop at the Pulsford household on the way. Terry takes over the driving for the trip to Wallumbilla and we arrive on the dot of 9pm.
A text message to Neville Maunder tells him not to start without us.
St Mary’s Church is just about full, with many families returning to Wallumbilla for Christmas celebrations.
There is a great spirit about the evening Mass, with Cath Smith commenting on my arrival of her gratitude just to be having mass. Once again, the role of the children proves to be a highlight, as they hand out lollies to all at the end of Mass.
Lucy Pulsford takes the wheel for the return journey to Roma to get some night driving experience and we arrive home about 11pm.
It is then on to preparing for Christmas Morning in Roma.
It is anticipated that there will be a large gathering for Christmas day Mass in Roma, so I take time to re-jig some of the homily given at the previous masses.
The next task is to pack the car and be ready for the departure to Warwick following Mass.
From the Friday before Christmas at Wycombe to Christmas morning in Roma the six days, had 10 Masses, eight different Mass centres, nearly 1000 kilometre and I’m looking forward to doing it all again next year.
Wednesday December 25: Christmas Morning Mass at All Saints Church, Roma sees a steady flow of families come into the church.
Many locals are joined by relations from away and others just visiting. A good crowd fills the church.
During Mass the children participate in the Nativity scene.
The last lantern is brought to the altar and the fifth star placed on the Southern Cross banner.
Sister Nora Fitzgibbon is welcomed back to the parish after being away with a bout of illness.
In her absence Kathy Cocks and the other ladies have arranged all the things necessary for the Advent and Christmas celebrations.
Former Roma resident, Father Michael O’Brien, will be coming after Christmas day to spend time with his family and say Mass.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.