We believe it takes a village to raise a child and so much of our village is the Catholic Church, Cathy and Matt Bourke told the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) recently.
‘Raising families is an extremely vulnerable time of life and possibly the hardest job to get right. It is the most important vocation in manifesting the domestic church’, the couple explained.
Matt and Cathy believe a vibrant Catholic family community is also vital in the faith journey to share values and life’s challenges with other families.
The Darwin-based couple will represent the Catholic Church in Australia at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, United States, from the 22-25 September where they look forward to seeing Pope Francis. The couple have four children: Michael (12), Joel (11), Trinity (9) and Sebastian (5) – all born in the Northern Territory.
Nominated by Bishop of Darwin, Eugene Hurley, the Bourke family have overcome many challenges in life and learnt to appreciate their blessings including the arrival of their son with special needs. ‘Our son has taught us more about God’s love than anyone could imagine. He inspires us with his strength, patience and faith. He courageously overcomes obstacles and accepts limitations daily.’
‘We do have to adjust our family life accordingly to meet his needs but this is nothing compared to how he needs to adjust his life with his reality, which at times is starkly different from his peers,’ Cathy said.
In 1997, the couple met in Melbourne while participating in the Jesuit, Mercy Sisters and Christian Brother sponsored Australian Companions Volunteer Community (CVC) program and they married four years later.
Describing their marriage as ‘a partnership between two best-friends’, the World Meeting of Family delegates said, ‘we’re there to support one another through the challenges of parenting, work and study’.
‘Being married is a great adventure and a lot of fun. We have always strived to keep God at the centre of our marriage. We never dreamed we could love each other more than the day we married, but it has just deepened beyond our own human efforts to become a spiritual union.’
This strong sense of faith was instilled by the example of the couple’s parents, Catholic schooling and the Antioch movement. Cathy described being influenced by images of a compassionate Church through media coverage of Blessed Mother Teresa.
‘Our prayer life at home includes Grace before meals and the Rosary as often as possible. We really encourage the kids to pray before school for all their fellow students, their teachers and their day ahead’, Cathy said.
Matt is the oldest of four boys. He was born in Newcastle and spent many formative years in country NSW before returning to complete his education. Matt is currently the Assistant Principal Religious Education at O’Loughlin Catholic College in Darwin. He has recently completed a Masters in Theology: Religious Education with the Broken Bay Institute.
Cathy is the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Born in Warragul and raised on a dairy farm in country Victoria and later in Hervey Bay, Queensland. Cathy is studying social work.
Church life is an essential part of family life for the Bourke family. Since arriving in Darwin almost ten years ago, the family has participated in St Martin de Porres Catholic Aboriginal Community in Darwin. The original purpose of this community was so Aboriginal people had a place to worship that could be uniquely their own and to develop their gifts and ministries in service of the Catholic Church.
Cathy describes being ‘embraced as part of the community, which is unique in its make-up and function: powered by a strong presence of the Holy Spirit, reconciliation in action and Indigenous leadership’.
‘Our participation in the life of St Martin’s has increased our understanding of what community is and, through Indigenous appreciation of family, has increased in our children a greater sense of their own sacredness,’ Cathy added.
However Matt pointed out that ‘the demands on our time as parents with four children and all the related commitments produces challenges in finding quiet time for prayer, especially family prayer. Sometimes journeying as a Catholic family attending mass on Sundays can be discouraging given, at times, the scarcity of other families with young children’.
The couple also provides support at diocesan level as a ‘mentor couple’ preparing engaged couples for marriage by facilitating the Parish Marriage Resource Centre’s “Smart Loving” program.
‘Over the years, we have facilitated and offered our home as a venue for other activities including Lenten and religious discussion groups.’
In recent years, Matt led a music ministry team and a prayer group called Exalt: inviting people to pray through praise and worship. Lately, Matt and Cathy also became involved in the Passionist Family Group movement.
The couple express gratitude at being chosen as delegates to represent the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference at the World Meeting of Families. ‘We feel incredibly privileged to be nominated, let alone selected, to represent the Catholic Church which we so love and feel blessed to be part of’, Cathy said.
‘We are looking forward to sharing the pilgrimage with other couples and their kids. It will be fantastic meeting and being inspired by families from all around the world who share in the joy of a life in Christ. Our hope is to learn more of the Church’s impact on families around the world, how other families experience life in today’s ever-changing climate and how families maintain and strengthen their faith.’
‘The World Meeting of Families provides a much-needed forum highlighting and affirming the significance of Catholic families as integral to the life of the Catholic Church. It also recognises contemporary challenges to family life for practicing Catholics, and indeed all families, in shaping a joy-filled and enriching ‘culture of life’ in the home and beyond’, Matt explained.
The family will be preparing for the gathering through prayer, reading and discussion with others about what they see as being important to family life in the Church today.
“Love is our Mission: The Family fully Alive” is the theme of the WMF this year. ‘It is what we want and seek for our family and believe can only truly be found in knowing God and being in relationship with Him as a family and in relationship with others’, the couple concluded.
Further information available at: www.worldmeeting2015.org.au
Follow ACBC social media updates during the World Meeting of Families using the hashtag #WMF2015