It’s 7:30am in Dubai. Aready the temperature outside is 30 degrees, but inside the international airport (pictured), it’s a moderately humid 20, which seasoned travellers don’t seem to notice.
Dubai airport is a melting pot of the world, literally and figuratively. I have spotted women in black, covered completely apart from their eyes. I have seen Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in their characteristic blue and white trimmed saris. I’ve seen business women and men, looking fresh and neatly ironed in the crisp dark suits, even at 5:30. I've seen white cloth clad men holding the hands of small children.
I am on my way, for the first time to Rome to witness the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, to cover it for CathNews and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The event, which takes place on 17 October, will be the first of its kind for most Australians. It will also be one of the most incredible opportunities for Australia to show itself as part of the international church.
So, as a so-called pilgrim, I make my way to Rome with Mary on my mind. As I left Australia, I was reading the short biography of Mary MacKillop by Clare Dunne. It is titled No plaster saint, and is a brief but beautiful account of the life of this strong woman. It struck me that I was reading about Mary's own trip to Rome, and it all came into context.
My trip to Rome is somewhat different to Mary’s, which makes me kind of fall in love with her. I have been reflecting on just how much will, strength, bravery, courage and faith it must have taken for Mary to make this same trip, from Sydney to Rome, over 100 years ago, by ship.
I would like to think that I have packed simply, not taken anything I don’t need – but, I certainly have more than a brown and white habit. This simplicity and humility of Mary is something I strive towards, but am sure I will never come close to emulating. My falling in love with Mary has been a gradual process that has been taking place since I first began working for the Bishops Conference about a year ago. No other event or person has been so prominently woven into my day to day work as the person of Mary MacKillop.
My journey is sponsored by the Bishops, who graciously offered me an opportunity to travel to Rome to cover this event. I’m sure that, as Mary packed for Rome, her considerations were a little different to mine. She would not have been tossing up whether to take a pair of high heels or sandals; about how many business suits would be enough; or asking around as to whether she indeed needed to wear a Mantilla if given a papal audience.
And she certainly wasn’t sponsored by the Bishops. Indeed she went to Rome to plead her cause, to convince the Pope that her religious institute should be free to self-govern from within, rather than relying on the rule of the local bishop. This was one of the causes of her excommunication which was eventually lifted.
Comparatively speaking, my journey to Rome has been my most comfortable trip in recent years. Compared to my last three overseas trips which involved short stints working in developing countries in Asia and Latin America, it’s very luxurious. But paradoxically this makes me a little uncomfortable. As I look around the opulent Dubai airport, impressive as it is, I can’t help but wonder what Mary MacKillop would have thought of all of this. Dubai airport is all glitter and gold – Rolex, Cartier, a million different varieties of stuffed camel. It’s a contradiction, but yet that is travel, our world is a contradiction. I am very aware that all of this opulence is being witnessed en-route to go and cover the event which will honour a woman who favoured the poorest of the poor, shirking comfort to serve with reverence the most marginalised of our society.
So, in this early morning, seated on the floor at Dubai, waiting for my flight to Rome, I have a prayer. My great hope today, my prayer today, is that as pilgrims travel to Rome or stay in North Sydney, Penola or Western Australia…..that they reflect on not just this event of the canonisation, but that they reflect on, and consider how they too might become the spirit of Mary in today’s world. A spirit which saw that wealth and privilege in this life was all but temporary…that 'we are but travellers here', and that how we treat the most unfavourable of our brothers and sisters would be the measure of who we really are.
Beth Doherty is media officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.