Last week I was pottering around Sydney city centre inspecting paella pans when I eventually found myself in The Rocks area of the City. This is Sydney's oldest quarter and has held on to many of the original buildings of Sydney's first development. I was quite surprised to find similar sights to those you would find in almost any English city - small and dingy dwellings, dark and lugubrious passageways, and officious and heavy civic buildings.
The history of the settlement of Australia, which I have been reading about, suddenly struck me with great force, here in The Rocks; how Australia was first built upon a rather dark, English protestant culture - something which was totally alien to the native people and the climate, for that matter, of this part of the world.
This culture, which initially tried to subdue any Catholic culture, was itself incapable of really infusing the Gospel into the Australian way of life. As time moved on it was almost inevitable that the secular movement would prevail here, because in a sense, it offered a better, lighter, kind of culture to the one which had been imported from England. And, in its wake, the Gospel became, I sense, very thinly spead on this continent. Of course, The Rocks is now a tourist area full of anodine boutiques and bars.
So strong is the secular culture now that it dwarfs the Gospel, and Christianity in Australia is something which is very lightly expressed in society.
In a very real way then, the recent World Youth Day in Sydney was an extraordinary grace given to inspire the work of evangelisation in a country which is still waiting to experience the whole Life and Mission of the Church. Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Benedict XVI, in addressing Australia at WYD said:
His discourses at WYD in Sydney were given to challenge Australians about the true work of human life - making our lives pleasing to God. Above all his discourses were a call to Australia to actually embrace Evangelisation, the New Evangelisation, the call of the Gospel to build a new Australia"We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires."
World Youth Day was given here to inspire a new initiative and era of grace in this new country and continent which is still emerging. And, I have to say, the opportunity for the New Evangelisation in Australia is a real one - there is an openness here which is not found in the UK - in the sense of freedom to manoeuvre - but it does require a new generation to take this opportunity."in which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished, not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genbuiely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating jopy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deadens our sould asnd poisens relationships. ... This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings; it reveals our dignity as men and women create din the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity's sublime calling, which is to find fulfillment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life."