Catholics urged to focus on Easter message of hope

Australia’s bishops and religious leaders have called on the faithful this Easter to be filled with hope for the future while encouraging Church organisations to continue providing great works of love, care and mercy.

In their 2019 Easter messages, the bishops reflected on local and global issues, including the effects of sexual abuse revelations, the rise of ideologies of hate expressed in violent massacres and the financial and social pressures on families, especially in regions crippled by long-term drought and natural disasters.

They all called for Catholics to draw strength from the Easter message of the Risen Lord and the transformative power of Jesus by using the teachings of Christ to help navigate a path through problems facing our families, communities, the Church and the world.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, in his Easter video address, said every day millions of Australians encountered Christ and the Church through Catholic parishes, schools and universities, hospitals, aged care homes and hospices, in campaigns on behalf of Indigenous people, refugees and victims of modern slavery, and in organisations supporting the needy and homeless.

Archbishop Fisher said all of these works were works of Easter, raising people up, and all were declarations of love, especially for the weak and powerless.

“By these works of mercy, more than our words, will people judge whether we are serious, whether we really believe in the Resurrection, whether Easter is for us and them,” he said.

Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge reflected on the difficulties now facing the world and the Church and the recurring messages of hope in the Old and New Testaments.

“Facing into the darkness of the world and the Church, we too turn to the Cross,” he said.

“Evil is powerful and the darkness is real. But the greater power which raised Jesus from the dead – we call it the love of God – will bring good from evil, light from darkness.

“So when we kindle the new fire at Easter we go to the very heart of biblical religion, finding fresh hope in the midst of what seems to be hopelessness. That’s why even now we will sing the songs of joy. The victory belongs to love.”

Catholic Religious Australia president Sr Monica Cavanagh RSJ urged all Catholics to use the days of the Easter Triduum to pause, reflect and ask themselves:

“Where is the God of Easter wanting to break through in my life?”, she asked.

“Each one of us walks this journey of suffering in solidarity with Jesus each time we allow ourselves to be moved by the atrocities occurring around our world,” she wrote in her Easter message.

Sr Monica wrote about this year’s 25th anniversary of the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda and Rwanda’s slow road of forgiveness, reconciliation and rebuilding. She also mentioned Australia’s support for New Zealanders following the Christchurch massacre.

“In these experiences we are challenged to reflect on how fear, hatred and destruction can be such a source of suffering. Such realities engage us in our own fears and hates in both our personal and communal journeys,” she said.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli, in his first Easter message to his Melbourne Archdiocese, described how the risen Jesus’ transfigured wounds brought new hope.

“Today begins my first sharing of the Easter season with you as your Archbishop. We have been walking through loss and grief in the Church here in Melbourne and we are so in need of the Lord, who wants us to share in his Easter joy. Christ is alive and he wants us to be alive,” he said.

Archbishop Comensoli said the Risen Lord would never abandon his people and instead offers his followers the strength to set out on a new path with him.

Below are short summaries of the Easter messages from bishops across Australia.

Click here to access the bishops’ full messages.

Archdiocese of Adelaide and Port Pirie Diocese

Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Bishop of Port Pirie Diocese and Apostolic Administrator of Adelaide Archdiocese, linked this week’s loss of the grand Notre Dame Cathedral in France with the need to rebuild today’s Church “out of the ashes of disillusionment”.

“So we come to Easter with a sense of hope, as well as a realisation of our failures and our need for redemption. We need the renewal that Easter brings. ‘Behold I make all things new,’ says the Lord in the Scriptures,” Bishop O’Kelly wrote.

Bishop O’Kelly said Jesus’ death appeared to be the end of the story, but in fact was the beginning of  Christian belief.

“He transformed people. People who were disillusioned, cowards who had lost hope were suddenly restored, renewed. This is what the Christian belief continues to be.”

Diocese of Ballarat

In his Easter message, Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird CSsR spoke about the great outpouring of grief, compassion, support and prayers to God following the Christchurch massacre.

He said in its own way, Holy Week and Easter was a celebration of darkness and light: the darkness of Christ’s suffering and death, the light of his rising to new life.

“As we celebrate these days, we could draw on the experience of the last few weeks in Christchurch. We too can find strength through prayer to God and care for one another,” he said.

“The prophet Zechariah speaks of ‘a spirit of kindness and prayer’. I invite you to enter into Holy Week and Easter in this spirit. In a prayerful spirit and a spirit of compassion, reflect on the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of people around the world today. And in that same spirit, pray that God will raise us up as God raised up Jesus. Pray that our whole community will come through times of sorrow and be blessed with the gift of peace.”

Diocese of Bathurst

Bishop Michael McKenna focused his Easter message on the symbolism of the Risen Jesus to provide hope in times of gloom and darkness in the world, Church and the lives of us all.

“The message of Easter and the heart of our faith is the question: ‘Do I truly believe it?’

“It is understandable that the women at the tomb did not think of looking for life. It is understandable that sometimes we lose heart, too. But the message of Easter is a call to lift our eyes from dead things, which are indeed real, to where life is, just as real and far more powerful.

“This Easter, this year, where is Galilee for you and me? Where will we meet him?”

Archdiocese of Brisbane

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said: “In many ways the world and the Church are passing through dark times, and the question is how to make sense of the darkness.”

But, Archbishop Coleridge said, “when we kindle the new fire at Easter we go to the very heart of biblical religion, finding fresh hope in the midst of what seems to be hopelessness. That’s why even now we will sing the songs of joy. The victory belongs to love.”

Diocese of Broome

Bishop Christopher Saunders reflected on the three important elements of Lent – fasting, prayer and charity.

“These Lenten practices brought into focus our task in the lead up to Easter – to restore our rightful relationship with God through penance and to restore our rightful relationship with humanity though love,” he wrote.

“So now it is Easter and we are an Easter people. We glory in the goodness of God and we marvel at his love for us. A love so boundless, a love so selfless, made abundantly evident in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Thankfully, it is a happy fact that this call to greatness sometimes inspires us to celebrate Easter not just now, but in every moment of our lives.”

Diocese of Cairns

Bishop James Foley reflected on his recent Lenten visits to aged care homes in Cairns and how many Australians are now living three times as long as Jesus did.

“Our lives can be a strange series of small deaths and minor resurrections. We can be ill and then recover; we can be grief-stricken and then restored,” he wrote.

“However, from those nursing home visits and from intimations of my own mortality, the words spoken to Elijah take on a new resonance: ‘Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you.’

“For ourselves, as Christians and hopefully becoming ever more Christ-like, our food is Eucharist. Each time we celebrate and receive, we participate in His death and His resurrection.”

Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn

Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn and Apostolic Administrator of Wagga Wagga, Christopher Prowse, reflected on the theme of forgiveness as a door through which healing peace can enter our world.

In a video message, Archbishop Prowse said: “One of the last statements of Jesus on the Calvary Cross was: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Forgiveness of every person who harms us is one of the great saving lessons of Good Friday.

“Then, the first words of the risen Lord Jesus at the resurrection victory of Easter is: ‘Peace be with you.’ Easter peace is the first gift to us from our healing God.

“Let forgiveness and healing peace flow into our families and friends. May these gifts give us courage to develop real neighbourliness to those in our streets and communities. Let the homeless and lonely this Easter receive not more pious sentiments, but real practical charity and care.”

Diocese of Darwin

Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci, speaking in his video message, said Catholics were called to live the joy of Easter.

“The 40 days of Easter are about the reminder of hope. We have celebrated Lent where we have reflected on our lives. We have renewed our baptismal promises on Easter day and now we are called to live the joy of Easter.

“What is the joy that God wants us to live? Is it about pretending that bad things don’t happen? No, it is about reminding us that love is bigger than anything. Easter is about hope; not optimism – much more than that. Hope and a promise: ‘I am with you always, even until the end of time’. And the joy and peace that comes from Easter is being anchored in the love of God.

“So no matter what troubles we find ourselves in our community, in our Church, God is with us. That gives us joy, that gives us hope.”

Diocese of Geraldton

The Bishop of Geraldton, Michael Morrissey, reflected on a recent diocesan pilgrimage to the busy and crowded religious sites in the Holy Land.

“I was a little disconcerted by the crowds of people pushing and shoving to get a better view or to touch the traditional places of Our Lord’s birth, death and resurrection. This was the reality Jesus faced when he was hauled before the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, Herod and then condemned to death with a loud and unruly crowd all around him,” he wrote.

“During this Easter in 2019, I pray that there will be those moments and times for quiet reflection where the light will shine for you. We rejoice and give thanks for Jesus Christ, who is indeed our Saviour, who remembers us and who scatters the darkness as we live out our lives with joy and hope that Christ is risen!”

Archdiocese of Hobart

In his Easter message, Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous likened the faithful of the Catholic Church in Australia to that of the despair of the disciples after Jesus left them.

“The faithful of the Catholic Church in Australia have been hit again and again by bad news. Like the disciples, we can sense that the Lord has been taken from us and we have been abandoned. For many in the Church, there seems so little to cling to,” he wrote.

“This Easter… we can be reassured that the risen Christ still walks with us, as he did for the two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had lost all hope. Their dreams were shattered. Jesus, the risen Lord, simply engaged in conversation with them. This conversation lifted their spirits and afterwards they commented, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road’.

“May each of us this Easter find our hearts stirred and enflamed as we realise that the risen Christ is indeed with us as we walk amid the darkness. He is risen and all will be well.”

Archdiocese of Melbourne

Archbishop Peter Comensoli, in his first Easter message to his Melbourne diocese, described how the risen Jesus, brimming with divine energy, did not hide the wounds of his death from his friends and instead carried them into this resurrected life.

Archbishop Comensoli said Jesus’ transfigured wounds brought new hope. He said the risen Lord would never abandon his people and instead offers the strength to set out on a new path with him.

“So today, with our wounds transfigured under the radiance of an Easter dawn, let us run with Mary Magdalene and with Peter the Apostle to greet our future with Christ. We run with hope in our hearts. We run to tell others this Easter news and we run because Christ is showing us the way.”

Archdiocese of Perth

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB called on Catholics to use the transformative power of the Lord and the attitudes of Jesus – simplicity, compassion, self-forgetfulness, forgiveness and humility – to make lasting changes.

“Even for those who are trapped in despair, the dream of having something to hope for and the deep desire that things should and could be better than they are never seems to die,” he said in a video message.

“As we consider the conflicts and suffering which confront us in so many parts of the world, and as once again we in the Catholic Community here in Australia are overwhelmed by the horrors of the sexual abuse of young people within the Church, the very idea of the triumph of life and love over death and hatred, might seem to be an impossible dream beyond our grasp.

“Change in our families, our friends, the Lord’s Church which we love and the society of which we must remain an active part will gradually begin to emerge. Things will be better than they are at the moment.”

Diocese of Sale

In his Easter message, Sale Bishop Patrick O’Regan said Easter offers a reminder that people can choose to respond in these unpredictable times with solidarity, compassion, hope and prayer.

“Events such as the ones we recently witnessed in Christchurch also remind us that life is unpredictable. The horror that such a thing could happen, the alarm that such things could happen close to home, can almost overwhelm us,” he said.

“Easter and the Resurrection of Christ teaches us that although life can at times be unpredictable, God is not.”

“May Easter 2019 be a time of great peace and joy for you and your families and friends. May we rediscover that despite the unpredictability of life at times, God is always faithful.”

Diocese of Sandhurst

Bishop of Sandhurst Leslie Tomlinson said the simple statement “Christ is Risen!” sits at the heart of the Christian message.

“Some of the great examples of our faith, from the early Desert Fathers through St Gregory the Great and St Francis of Assisi to St Mary MacKillop, strived to base their lives simply on Christ and to live this out in simplicity of life. In this, they serve as models for us all. Yet human beings so often make the simple, complex!

“Therefore, my Easter message is quite simple really, based on the fact that I believe that God is in our world and has come definitively in our world in Jesus Christ – and that God raised Him up from the dead, which shows that ultimately, there is hope, there is meaning and there is victory.

“I pray therefore and hope confidently for peace – peace in our hearts, peace in our homes and peace in our world.”

Archdiocese of Sydney

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in his Easter video address reflected on the difficulties of being a Catholic, on hearing the words of Jesus today and the confronting Easter story.

“The cross tells the story of suffering humanity. The tomb, the story of all we have loved and lost. Still we hope, from cross and tomb, we dream of Heaven. After a long Lent, we cry out for Easter. After interminable darkness we crave the light; and light there is,’’ he said.

Diocese of Toowoomba

Bishop of Toowoomba Robert McGuckin urged parishioners to keep the candle of hope alive in their hearts and to light the world with the candles of peace, faith and love.

He also urged parishioners to continue to help people in need by assisting organisations such as Caritas, which bring hope to many people.

“It is not difficult for us to recognise the ways in which candles of peace, faith and love are being extinguished in our world today as we are bombarded with shocking revelations of sexual abuse and horrendous scenes of devastation as ideologies of hate are expressed in such violent massacres as the recent attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch,” Bishop McGuckin wrote.

“With hope, regardless of how bad things look and are, the flames of peace, faith and love can be re-ignited once again.”

Diocese of Townsville

In the Diocese of Townsville, where terrible floods devastated the city and farming communities earlier this year, Bishop Tim Harris called for a return to the basics of the faith and to focus on Jesus to help navigate life’s difficulties.

“The time is right, if not overdue, for the Church, which is all of us, to go back to the basics of our faith and focus on Jesus. We must ‘live him and breathe him’ in season and out of season because if we really know him, we will never be alone or at sea,” he wrote in his Easter message.

“Our sea of trouble needs to be navigated and our Church must help us all to focus on the end goal, which is Christ Himself. He is the one who goes on ahead of us and says, ‘Come follow me’.
“So as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his victory on behalf of us all over death, let us renew that joy which surely lies at the heart of the Christian message with a cry that sums up the whole of that message – the whole of our lives – and that response must be: ‘Alleluia’.”

Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes

Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE reflected on the green shoots of hope emerging in his diocese, which has been devastated by years of drought.

“In last year’s Easter message to the diocese, I spoke of ‘hope’ in times of trouble. This hope was especially centred on the devastation of drought that has hit the diocese, and as we approach another Easter we still find ourselves in drought. Although, amidst the drought-stricken region of our diocese, I see some glimmer of hope,” he said.

“When the earth is dry and barren, it seems that hope has vanished from our midst, yet when we see that small sprouting of greenery in our dry diocese, we see the rebirth of hope, just like the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

“Therefore, dear friends, do not lose hope, no matter how tough life gets. Hold on to that hope that despite a crucifixion and death, a resurrection will occur. Let us take heart from St Paul’s words that we hear at Easter, ‘Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory so that we too might live a new life’.”

Diocese of Wollongong

Wollongong Bishop Brian Mascord focused his Easter message on the imagery of Christ and the anointing of oil, also reflecting on the terrible damage at Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

“As we awoke this week to the devastating images of the Notre Dame Cathedral in France being razed to the ground, engulfed in flames, my heart sank,” he wrote.

“But, what also struck me was that the grief did not extend to just the Catholic community. The whole world seemed to be mourning the loss of such an important piece of our history and culture — indeed our humanity. It was like the loss of a beautiful perfumed oil that once anointed the world.

“My prayer for you this Easter is that you will experience the anointing of grace that has been poured upon you through Christ’s death and resurrection, and that this will cause you to fall to your knees in tears of joy, joining in the words of the apostle John: ‘Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are’.”