“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

You may have heard of, or perhaps watched yourself, Andrew Denton’s recent contribution to the debate about legalising euthanasia.

For the most part, his address to the Australian Press Council was thoughtful, because Denton is a thoughtful and intelligent man. He did, however, reveal defective thinking (or something worse: pernicious illiberalism) in his call for the religiously minded to disqualify themselves from the national debate.

Peter Kurti presents a good summary and rebuttal in the latest Australian edition of The Spectator.

‘I urge you, step aside,’ Denton said, directing his remarks at those ‘whose beliefs instruct you that only God can decide how a human being should die.’ If you’ve got religion, in other words, sit down, shut up, and don’t be a pest.

This is the new sectarianism where all Christian traditions are equally unacceptable. When it comes to making medical decisions about who can die and when, the new sectarians apparently already know everything there is to know about human suffering. Those who agree with them are welcome to speak up; but any with opposing views must remain silent.

Meanwhile, Fr Richard Umbers has been on retreat at the beautiful Brooklands Retreat Centre in New Zealand. I very much doubt he was even aware of Denton’s proposal when he posted this video on Sunday, but his remarks on faith are very pertinent:

. . that consideration on a retreat of faith, hope and charity: what we have as Christians to offer our society. Faith which is a light: it helps us to see the world in a very different way. It’s a gift God gives us, to see things from His perspective — the meaning of suffering; the meaning of our lives . . .

Since concluding his retreat, Fr Richard has returned to Sydney, where he will be ordained a bishop on Wednesday. Judging from his online activity in recent weeks, Fr Richard will quickly become the most prolific Australian bishop on the Internet:

Keep him, and Msgr Tony Randazzo, in mind on Wednesday evening. Maybe we can pray Fr Richard never forgets his mum’s sage advice:

“Just remember: you’re only Richard Umbers.”


Signs in heaven

Signs in heaven

The First Reading in today’s Mass of Our Lady’s Assumption shows John’s Apocalypse at its most vivid. Here’s an extract:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth . . .

And on it goes. Veritable libraries have been written interpreting these “signs in heaven.” It’s very interesting, I think, that next year the stars happen to align and interact in such a way that at least some of these signs are retold.

Patrick Archbold, the brains behind Creative Minority Reportpublished an article on this last year, in The Remnant. It’s well worth reading his entire article. Here’s how it starts:

On September 23, 2017, we will see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun). These events transpire during the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of “the woman clothed in the sun,” Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. What does it mean?

[Editorial Note: In the following article, I intend to present a series of facts and observations from which I draw no definitive conclusion. Yet, these facts and observations are of such a nature, for no other reason than their observation and reporting, that lend themselves to misinterpretation. So let me be clear, in the following article, I predict nothing. I am offering my observations on some upcoming phenomena, both heavenly and man-made, potentially of great import, that people might find interesting and of which people should be aware.]

I included his editorial note in full, because that’s especially important. Many of my readers probably suspect that we are in the End Times. I suspect as much myself. That’s all well and good, insofar as it informs a truly supernatural outlook, by which we strive for sanctity, and pray like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe there won’t be a tomorrow. As Our Lord advises, “when that day and hour will come, no one knows.” (Mt 24:36)

On the other hand, “millennial fever” is no good at all if it distracts a person from the interior life. Stockpiling food and water, and poring over calendars and prophecies, can be very destructive to a person’s faith — and the faith of those around them. It can also leave a person looking a bit cray-cray, which is really not a good way to attract others to Christ.

Of course, it’s also worth considering that there are people in every generation who think theirs is the last generation. Just ask the apostles! Be that as it may, there’s little doubt in my mind that we live in extraordinary times. Ours is a time where evil abounds, but grace abounds even more.

Deo gratias.

The papal vigil

The papal vigil

The vigil with the Holy Father was very moving. Unlike the other World Youth Days I have attended (in Sydney and Madrid), there were no “rival events” to the pope’s prayer.

There were no small groups holding ad hoc dance parties. There were no pilgrims with their back to the pope, engrossed in conversation or (!) card games. This year’s Vigil was free even of well-meaning pilgrims who diminish the spirit of prayer by ill-timed chants of “Viva il papa!”

This is what did happen:

  • Millions listened attentively to the pope (or to real-time translations on their small radios).
  • Millions laughed when the pope joked; millions cried out “no!” when he asked if we’d conform to the world, and “si!” when he asked if we’d be generous disciples.
  • Millions of people fell to their knees to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in five languages, candle in one hand, and — for those who had them — rosary beads in the other.
  • And perhaps most profoundly, when the pope asked for moments of silence, and when he ministered benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, two million weary pilgrims, scattered across several hectares, made no earthly sound, but stormed heaven in prayer.


Before the vigil, I heard many good confessions, and during it I saw some younger pilgrims overwhelmed with emotion. Among the 200 pilgrims I’ve accompanied, most of whom I didn’t meet personally, I have met seven young people who are for the first time contemplating a priestly or religious vocation, and two more who aren’t Catholic but who wish to become Catholic on their return.

Many, many pilgrims have personally encountered Christ, some for the first time, and in the case of the younger pilgrims, the faith of their parents is now becoming their own faith. In the words of one teenager, “I thought the Church was governed by rules and prohibitions, but now I know it’s all love.” Grace has flowed through the pilgrimage like a torrential river, and the pilgrims I accompanied corresponded with youthful generosity.

Many pilgrims have experienced a different World Youth Day. The faith and enthusiasm of their peers has only emphasised their own doubts, or at least a spiritual dryness. Pray for them, that they can find God even in such trying circumstances, and learn to love His holy will.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Happily for us, the fevered speculation of one million pilgrims converging on Czestochowa did not come to pass. There were tens of thousands, certainly, but nothing unmanageable.

Our Mass at the spiritual heart of Poland, which in a way launched our pilgrimage (in fact, there’ve been many starts), brought together Australians, Americans and Britons. It’s really not cricket for priests to take photos during the Mass, but I did sneak in one:

Mass at Czestochowa


The queues to reach the Black Madonna were very long, and very slow, but all our pilgrims dutifully and patiently fell in.

Crowd at Czestochowa

As we snaked around the large chapel, we could really soak in the surrounds. The walls are covered in plaques and medals and rosaries which date back centuries: gifts from pilgrims, grateful for graces they attribute to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Tributes at Czestochowa ,

There’s also a wall of crutches, left behind by pilgrims whose healing made them redundant:


Our pilgrims were briefed to “pray, click, pay” in that order. So in the final couple of hours, pilgrims took photos, toured the museums and grounds, and met some of the other thousands of international pilgrims.

This was a great way to prepare for the World Youth Day festival, which begins in earnest on Tuesday. From the spiritual heart of Poland we move towards the spiritual heart of Christendom: the papal Mass on Sunday, where we join Pope Francis at the altar, and with him the billion Catholics presently living around the world, and the countless holy souls in Heaven and purgatory.

Onward pilgrims.

Czestochowa bound

Czestochowa bound

Our early start this morning – 5:15 I think – didn’t feel so early. I guess there’s nothing like a longhaul flight to help you appreciate sleep in a real bed! The rising time loses its significance. Everyone’s bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Warsaw foyer

Today we move from Warsaw to Czestochowa, the geographical and spiritual heart of Poland. We’ve got midday Mass scheduled at Jasna Gora, one of Europe’s most famous Marian shrines. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Poles walk to the shrine, seeking spiritual favours or giving thanks for favours received. I get the impression that Jasna Gora is central to every Polish Catholic – all 37 million of them.

Nobody seems to know how many international pilgrims we’ll be joining in our own visit to the shrine. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to a million pilgrims! The monastery accommodates 100 thousand at a pinch, so we may not even glimpse the Black Madonna, but at least we can all reconnaissance the place for some future pilgrimage. I’m sure our visit will still honour Our Lady and please her Son.

I’ll post photos at the end of the day, when we again have free wifi. In the meantime, at the monastery I’ll commend readers’ intentions to the prayers of our Blessed Mother. Godspeed!

Halfway to Poland

Halfway to Poland

So I am blogging now from Doha, where the Internet is slow but free, so I’m not complaining.

The Krakow Connect pilgrimage is so big (200 plus pilgrims), that we are travelling on two different flights. Most left earlier, and flew with Emirates. But I’m part of the Qatar cohort, which is why our stopover is in Doha.


Qatar Airways is very good. The flights are slightly cheaper than Emirates and Etihad, but the service is in fact much better. I think my roman collar earned me a seat with more leg room, and I received lots of extra attention, so that was an unexpected bonus.

But all the other pilgrims agree, too, that the service is much higher than the already high standard of other airlines. The food wasn’t great, but the seats are comfortable enough to sleep in, and the insomniacs report the range of movies was good.

It’s the friendly staff which really recommend Qatar. They run a lot – I’ve never seen that on other airlines – but maybe that’s what makes them so generous with their time, and very personable. As I was disembarking, one of the Muslim stewardesses wished us all a good Easter. Makes sense. Lots of pilgrims; a big Catholic festival … I can see why it might evoke Christianity’s greatest feast.

Many of the pilgrims have never been overseas before. Even fewer have met the pope. So the excitement is pretty high. I hope, just as so many have experienced before, that World Youth Day exceeds their expectations and makes a deep spiritual impact.

I’ll keep updating this blog when I can. Updates are available in other places too:

Official blog: www.cam.org.au/wydvictoria/Live-Blog

Stacey Atkins’ blog: pilgrim2016.weebly.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wydvictoria

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