Friday, July 15, 2011

Algo Bello Para Dios in Toowong

The following is the text of an appeal talk I prepared, as Director of Catholic Mission in Brisbane, for the parishes of Toowong and Indooroopilly, on the weekend of July 16/17.

There is a young lady in this community tonight/today, whose name is Bella. It is a name that means Beautiful. She is a family friend but I mention her specifically because the Spanish version of her name is Bello...and it is this word that figures prominently in the Catholic Mission appeal for this year.

ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful For God. It was an expression coined by Blessed Mother Teresa and used by one of the church communities in Peru, when it established a hospice for people living with HIV or AIDS. Set up in an old warehouse eight years ago, the facility was called ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS. Tonight/today, you, like the people of Las Malvinas and like Gabriela, who is on the front of the appeal envelope, are being asked to Do Something Beautiful for God.

Before I introduce you to Gabriela and her work, I have a confession to make: my confession is this: I have never been on Mission! I have never left my homeland, to travel abroad and offer myself in service to the church or those who are poor, sick or oppressed. Like some of you here tonight, I have lived out my mission, here in Australia, as a husband, as a father, as an employee and a colleague.

For those of us here tonight/today, who are filled with faith but not yet hearing the call to travel overseas or to remote parts of Australia, in service of our faith, Mission begins the moment we wake up and continues as we make our way through the day, the week, the year. You don’t need a passport to do Mission and it’s not limited only to those who wear the Roman collar or who don a habit. In fact, our entire baptised life is a constant call to create ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful for God.

My mission has changed somewhat however in these past few months. Last year, I had to give the eulogy at my son, Brodie’s, funeral. He was just over five years old. A decade earlier, I did the same thing for my daughter, Amber Rose. For me, there is now a very clear question of “if I am not called to be a father in a day-to-day sense, what am I meant to be doing?” And then I look at the image on the envelope you are holding...

Gabriela cannot be here to ask for your support. She is answering the call of God to serve the people of Peru, through the communal kitchen she has set up in Las Malvinas. Father Raymundo who set up the AIDS clinic, also cannot be here to ask for your support. So I guess, for the moment, I have made it my mission to come before you, on their behalf!

The readings for this weekend seem simple, in that they see Jesus use parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. The imagery we hear in the Gospel includes the Kingdom being described as the sown seed, the mustard seed that becomes a sheltering tree and the yeast that leavens the bread.

Of all these images, however, it is the parable of the wheat and the darnel, and how they become entwined, that dominates. It is a reflection unique to Matthew, focusing as it does on the idea that not only is the world made up of people who become apathetic in their faith but there are those who actively oppose Gospel values. It is in this world – where evil seems to flourish, poverty is prevalent, and disease and violence is rife – that Catholic Mission operates. Those we support in more than 160 countries – the dedicated missionaries - around the world are the wheat; what they tackle is the darnel.

It is a theme carried over from the first reading, where the author of the book of Wisdom declares: “Your justice has its source in strength, your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all... “You only have to will and your power is there.” God could solve all the world’s problems but He created us with the potential to take the mustard seed of our faith and nurture it so that it can grow and spread its branches. Contributing to the appeal will do just this, by providing shelter, education, medical assistance and pastoral support, to those in need.

I think Jesus uses the parable of the wheat and the darnel to also point out something fundamental about us, as humans: in each of us, there is potential for good, and potential for evil. One moment we are a Saint, the next a Sinner. Stuff happens in our lives that makes us doubt, makes us question, makes us angry and sets us railing against the injustice of it all. That’s the darnel.

I know I find myself asking lots of questions about why my two children have both been called ‘home’ before me – parents shouldn’t have to bury their children! And while I can’t make sense of it, just yet, I am confident that there is a divine plan and that one day, I might appreciate how and why my children were my ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS for only a brief time!

From my limited perspective, I think the point of Jesus’ parable is that we don’t have all the answers, and we can’t provide the solutions to the world’s ills, on our own. What Matthew’s account encourages is discernment and prudence. We are not always able to distinguish accurately between what is wheat, or good, and what is darnel, or evil. It is Jesus alone who is qualified to judge. This Gospel – as with the appeal itself – is ultimately one that asks us to trust in God’s providence and divine justice.

Donating to Catholic Mission is not about solving all the world’s problems. Make no mistake – your contributions DO make a SIGNIFICANT difference and the inside flap of the appeal envelope gives some examples of how this happens. For instance, $544 – the equivalent of two beers or cups of coffee each week – will enable missionaries to provide food and medicine to 65 river villages in extreme poverty in Peru.

Our donations are like the mustard seed that turns into a tree providing shelter, education, medical assistance, pastoral support, even the Sacraments. Or you could also consider a donation to Catholic Mission as yeast that, when combined with the faithfulness of heroic missionaries like Gabriela and Fr Raymundo, helps ‘leaven’ the conditions experienced by needy people, in more than 160 countries around the world, practically and spiritually.

One such example is the focus for our appeal tonight/today. In the urban river slum of Las Malvina, on the outskirts of Iquitos, the poverty is so extreme, people live in wooden houses made of planks and boards, with only two or three walls and occasionally no roof. Flood conditions exist for up to 7 months each year, bringing sewage, rubbish and disease into the make-shift homes. Polish lay missionary Gabriela says the cars in her homeland of Poland ‘live’ in better conditions, in the garages, than the people of Iquitos do in their homes.” She opened a communal kitchen for local children and it has since expanded to include literacy and education support. With the help of Catholic Mission, and its loyal donors such as you here tonight, she has created ALGO BELLO PARA DIOS – Something Beautiful for God.

I would now like to give you all a chance to respond, according to your capacity, and fill out the envelope or make your contribution.


I began my talk tonight/today by singling out Bella, the daughter of my friends. I would like to conclude by addressing my closing remarks to her, her sister, Katie, and all those who can rightly be described as Children of God. In doing so, I am going to draw on some of the words from a lovely children’s book, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In his book, God’s Dream, Archbishop Tutu asks:

Dear Child of God: do you know how to make God’s Dream come true? It is really quite easy. As easy as sharing, loving, caring; as easy as holding, playing, laughing. As easy as knowing we are one big family, because we are all God’s children.
Will you help God’s dream come true?

On behalf of Gabriela, Luisa, Fr Raymundo and all those whose your support will benefit, I ask you: “Will you help God’s dream come true? If you have answered yes, by making a donation, I thank you. You can be confident that you have done exactly what the appeal asks tonight: Algo Bello Para Dios.

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