20 September 2009

A "g'day" in Melbourne

Connex suburban train, Melbourne

"G'day" is a common greeting in Australia. Today I had a very "g'day" here in Melbourne.

Strathmore railway station is just down the road from St Columban's in Essendon, a Melbourne suburb. I went into the city by train this afternoon to meet a new friend from the Philippines, Joy Manalo, who is doing a year's post-graduate studies at Clayton University here and whose mother Angie attends my weekday Masses in Bacolod. We spent about two hours in a Starbucks discussing the situation in the Philippines over a cappuccino, my favourite drink.

My colleagues at St Columban's told me that I could buy a ticket in the newsagents along the way but it was closed. The machine at the station - it's a 'non-person' station - wouldn't accept my $20 dollar bill. It did state very clearly that it didn't give change of more than ten dollars. A man told me to get on the train and explain to an inspector at Flinders Street Station, in the heart of Melbourne, but that he might not be happy.

As it turned out, the inspector whom I approached, a middle-aged man, was very helpful, even though I think his initial reaction was similar to mine when someone approaches me with a hard-luck story. But when I asked him 'What can I do?' he said he would let me out and told me where to buy a ticket.

I had seen myself as, technically, having broken the law but my online research later showed me that I hadn't, as I had made every reasonable effort to get a ticket both before and after my journey.

When I was wondering what platform to go to to catch my train back to Strathmore, I approached another inspector, a woman of a similar age to the first. She too was most helpful, going with me to the big board where they showed the information but which I hadn't been able to decipher.

Then when I was just about to get on the escalator to go down to Platform 4 I heard someone calling "Father Sean" I turned around and saw a smiling Chinese-Filipino, Hector Uy, who with his wife Imee had made a Worldwide Marriage Encounter in Cebu some months ago before emigrating to Australia. I had been the priest on their weekend.

St Fidelis Church, Moreland, Victoria

At each of the three Masses in St Fidelis/Our Lady of Perpetual SuccourParish, where I was doing the mission appeal for the Columbans, I mentioned Father Bernard Way, a Melbourne-born Columban who was among the pioneering group that went to Burma in the mid-1930s. He died in 1993. The reason was that an article her wrote for The Far East, the Irish Columban magazine now known as Far East - our magazine here in Australia and New Zealand retains the original name - captured my teenage imagination when I was seriously thinking of being a missionary priest. It was about his printing press in his parish in the mountains of northern Burma.

I never met Father Barney but wrote him for his Golden Jubilee and mentioned the part his printing press had played in my discovery of my vocation.

Afterthe Saturday evening Mass a couple who had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary approached me. The wife told me that Father Barney's sister, Margaret, had made her wedding dress. After the Mass in Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, a chapel in a school in the parish, another couple approached me. The husband told me, if I recollect correctly, that Father Barney or someone in his family had been his godfather. After the Sunday morning Mass in St Fidelis another man told me that his dad had been the Way family's butcher.

And during the week I met a niece of Father Barney, the daughter of his twin brother, who works part-time at the Columban house here.

Father Way teaching young Kachin men in Burma to sing Gregorian chant.

I frequently have this kind of experience wherever I go. We usually call them 'small world' experiences but for me as a missionary they are expressions of the reality that we truly are God the Father's beloved sons and daughters and the beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus and therefore of one another. As a priest I find that I am trusted as a link between so many people, living and dead.
I was especially happy to meet people with links to a Columban priest whom I never met but whose article about his printing press was one of the clearest signposts on the road to discovering my vocation. May Father Barney Way rest in peace.

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