MY grandmother on my father’s side, Nellie Jean Pyne, died when I was 12 and beside the many happy memories, she also left me a small photograph of Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII.
I treasured this small gift. It still sits on a sideboard in my bedroom where I see it every day I am in Adelaide.
It reminds me who I am, where I have come from and that my faith means as much to me today as it did to my devout grandmother.
In the mid to late 1950s, my father Remington spent some time as the junior medical officer in Rome, where he studied opthalmology at Rome University, and my mother had their first child, also named Remington.
They were in St Peter’s Square when the white smoke was released from the Sistine Chapel’s pot-belly stove announcing “Habemus Papam!” (We have a Pope) heralding the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958.
What an amazing experience for two young Australians making their way in the eternal city and the world.
Fast-forward four decades. My wife and I spent some time trying to conceive.
After several years we visited Rome and made a trip many other Australians have made, to the weekly audience with the pope held in the magnificent Pope Paul VI Audience Hall.
In the year we visited, the Church was led by the saintly Pope John Paul II.
My wife and I were fortunate to hold tickets numbered one and two.
That meant we would get to meet His Holiness. We did so.
I asked him to bless medallions of St Francis of Assisi, St Clare and St Gerard, the patron saint of motherhood.
I also asked him to pray for our special intention that we have children. That was in July 1999.
Now I am not conceited enough to claim we are the beneficiaries of a miracle of Blessed John Paul II, but in August 2000 my wife gave birth to our beautiful boy and girl twins.
A couple of years later, another son arrived; a few years later our second daughter was born.
It may have been coincidence, but I like to think his blessings played a part.
Why should it be important to tell you all this? Because on April 27 I had the honour of representing you on behalf of the Australian Government at the canonisations of these two remarkable popes.
I am particularly delighted as the Church of Blessed John XXIII at Hope Valley is in my electorate of Sturt. Pope John XXIII created the Second Vatican Council. It changed the Church.
It was a council finished by his successor Pope Paul VI and its outcomes have been hotly debated ever since, but there is no denying that the Second Vatican Council has been the great influencer of the modern Church.
When St John XXIII was elected pope in 1958, few recognised that he would alter the Church so profoundly.
He was also the first pope to travel by train and lead the way in taking the papacy to the people through visiting Rome dressed in a simple priest’s soutane in order to listen to the voices of the ordinary Roman citizens and keep himself in touch with their thoughts and aspirations.
Pope John Paul II had a long and fruitful pontificate. He embraced the example of Pope John XXIII by greatly expanding the papacy’s reach into the world through constant travel and interaction with the faithful.
He opened the Church to reconciliation with other Christian faiths, Judaism and Islam.
Most importantly, along with the United States president Ronald Reagan, he played the single most important part in freeing the people of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union from the yoke of Communism.
Through his public support for the Solidarity Movement in Poland, he gave people everywhere hope that democracy could return to those states and freedom could reign again.
His stoicism in the face of debilitating Parkinson’s disease was an inspiration to all.
Both men were recognised on April 27 in Rome as saints. I feel privileged to have represented the Australian Government at this monumental event and I thank the electors of Sturt for providing me with this opportunity – by electing me again last year.
Christopher Pyne is the Federal Minister for Education.
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