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Janus is a mythical Roman figure usually depicted with two faces – one facing the past and the other the future. This weekend is Janus-like when we look in two different directions at the same time. Culturally, we look internally on this Australia Day long weekend. Ecclesially, we look outwards towards Panama City where Pope Francis will celebrate World Youth Day. So we hold two different dimensions in tension: who we are as a civic society and who we are as the people of God. We look both ways by looking into the heart of our nation through the eyes of our collective history and we look into the heart of the gospel through the eyes of the young.

The last census figures in 2016 showed a decrease in religious affiliation. Almost one in three Australians now claim no religious affiliation. This does not mean that 30% of our nation are atheists but it does mean that our religious institutions have no attraction for a significant percentage of the population. This should be a cause of reflection for us rather than despair. How can we speak the gospel anew today? In essence, that is what the Plenary Council is all about. Your voice is an important one for shaping the church of tomorrow, so please take the time to respond either through the postcards available or through the Plenary Council website: http://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/

This weekend we also look outwards and towards the future as we connect with the World Youth Day celebrations in Panama City. The massive gathering of Catholic youth, which takes place every two or three years, will be held this year for the first time in Central America. Pope St. John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1985. The purpose of World Youth Day is threefold: a celebration of and putting trust in the young; giving young people a chance to make pilgrimage; and to give young people a chance to encounter the worldwide Catholic community.

The theme for this year’s gathering is taken from Mary’s affirmation in Luke’s gospel (1:38): “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Panama is a small Central American nation of about 4 million people. Overall, the country is about 85% Catholic. Most of the events are held on Cinta Costera, a small peninsula jutting into the Panama Bay, which has been renamed Campo Santa Maria la Antigua for WYD. They are expecting up to 250,000 people for the culminating Mass tonight our time. Over 60 young people from the Archdiocese are there participating in this festival of faith. Pope Francis arrived in Panama on Wednesday. The next day, he met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez, which was followed by a meeting with the Central American bishops and then a welcome ceremony to mark the beginning of World Youth Day. On Thursday, Pope Francis met with young detainees for a penitential service, and later that evening presided over a “Via Cruces” (Way of the Cross) at Campo Santa Maria la Antigua. On Saturday, Pope Francis dedicated the altar of the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria la Antigua, and, in the evening, led a vigil with the young people. At 11pm our time tonight, 8am Sunday morning Panama time, Pope Francis will preside over the closing mass for WYD. Stay tuned because Pope Francis appears to be quite free around young people and often says some very interesting things at events such as these (but that is generally the case with Pope Francis).

This weekend we are reminded of our dual citizenship; that we are citizens of our nation and citizens of God’s kingdom. In thanksgiving and hopefulness, let us commit ourselves to the work that must be done in our time and place. May we give thanks for our nation and our church and recognise our responsibilities in working with God to build both a just and fair society and a renewed church alive with the ever-young power of the Gospel.

Enjoy the long-weekend

Fr. Anthony

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