Saturday, October 16, 2010

For Blessed Mary, A Saint-Mad Country

Through the week before her formal declaration as Australia's first saint, images of Mary MacKillop have been beaming from Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge -- just one of many conspicuous examples of an all-out frenzy Down Under in advance of tomorrow's historic canonization in Rome.

While some 8,000 Aussies have made the arduous pilgrimage to be present for the Vatican rites, back beneath the Southern Cross the ramp-up's extended everywhere from wall-to-wall TV, stage musicals and print-pieces on the lure of the saints to the government's move to copyright MacKillop's name against commercial exploitation -- a Cabinet-level safeguard extended to just one other Oz national: the cricket legend Sir Don Bradman, widely viewed as "the greatest living Australian" before his 2001 death.

Meanwhile, as previously noted, the weeks leading up to the Josephite foundress' sainting have seen a global outpouring of coverage over the role her community's reporting of sexual abuse by a priest played in Bl Mary's 1871 excommunication, which was soon lifted by a dying Bishop Lawrence Shiel, who succumbed to clerical pressure in imposing the sentence five months earlier.

While the longtime postulator of the MacKillop cause, Fr Paul Gardiner, lashed out at what became a widespread conflation of the story -- namely, that Bl Mary had herself lodged the complaint of misconduct against an Irish priest -- the Josephites subsequently confirmed that the reporting of the abuse by other founding members of the order helped form the backdrop to a clerical campaign to "destroy" the nascent community.

(In a long-standing echo of the move, among the portraits of the prelates of Adelaide that line the dining room of its archbishop's residence, the image of Shiel is said to remain covered by an open door.)

Either way, the media flub has served to create a new push -- one to have MacKillop declared patroness of abuse survivors... and as one Aussie pilgrim cabled over, Rome's sudden Southern infusion has given the Eternal City a "magic" feel.

Led by Sydney's Cardinal George Pell and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, the unprecedented Oz delegation brought all the comforts of home to an unusual degree; last night, a special exhibit of Aboriginal art opened in the Vatican Museums, with the occasion commemorated by a performance of the community's well-known dancers in the shadow of St Peter's dome. By this morning, in a tribute to the Josephites' long-standing ministry to Australia's native peoples, Aboriginal flags were flying in the Via della Conciliazione.

The rites formally canonizing MacKillop and five other blesseds including Montreal's "miracle worker" Brother André Bessette begin at 10am Rome time tomorrow (4am ET, 0900 GMT); livestream links to come.