Global Perspective

June 14, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 7

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Geraldine Hawkes
Geraldine Hawkes chairs the Commission for Australian Catholic Women. She also coordinates St Paul's City Ministry, an ecumenical centre that works with business people to bring ethics alive in boardrooms and workplaces across South Australia.



Open Letters to the New Pope:

In the right hands, a garden can flourish

By Geraldine Hawkes

(Editor's Note: Global Perspective is featuring Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Geraldine Hawkes writes from Adelaide, Australia.)

Dear Holy Father:

Read more letters to the pope
  • Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves from Chennai, India: Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!.
  • Joseph Adero Ngala from Nairobi, Kenya: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
  • Geraldine Hawkes from Adelaide, Australia: In the right hands, a garden can flourish.
  • Janina Gomes from Mumbai, India: Churchgoers must confront some tough questions.
  • Michael Gillgannon from La Paz, Bolivia: We can, must learn from our errors.
  • Antonio D. Sison from the Philippines: The musings of a Filipino Catholic.
  • Dominic Emmanuel from New Delhi: Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity.
  • Virginia Saldanha from Mumbai, India: Asian women request a true dialogue.
  • Greg Lopez from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: How much is too much?.
  • One of the first comments I heard following the announcement of your election as was that the church was in safe hands. I felt encouraged at this insight, because I reckon from all I hear, what many Catholics in Australia are looking for is a safe pair of hands. There are many who are longing for a place that can hold them as they explore matters of faith and life, in ways that are loving and respectful, to help them come to a deeper sense of the response they can make as people of faith in the everyday events of life.

    I have been inspired by the great work of dialogue across cultures and faiths, and I so long for the same kind of commitment for dialogue among Catholics. You would know only too well the changes that can happen in dialogue. For myself, I was delighted to read a comment from a representative of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, following a conversation between the Council and the Australian Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenism in May this year. He said that Jewish-Catholic relations "have moved dramatically from a position of suspicion and distrust to one of respect and co-operation, where we can discuss all issues openly and frankly". This is one of the aspects we long for in our church.

    The reality for us in Australia is that many people have already walked away -- or been eased out -- having experienced suspicion or distrust when they have lifestyles or insights that don't seem to sit "safely" with some Catholics. And there are others who describe themselves as "just hanging in there," hoping to be able to continue to contribute to the necessary change to become a more Gospel-centered church.

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    I recognize that we need skills and training in order to be able to dialogue well but we also need leadership and a commitment to making our church a safe place where all can belong and share their gifts.

    One morning as I took our family dog on his early morning walk, I was reflecting on the new possibilities and imagining what life could be like now that it seemed that this church of ours would be held in safe hands for the foreseeable future.

    I found my thoughts on these possibilities interrupted by a raucous noise and a frenzy of activity overhead. Below, the ground was littered with chewed pine cones and fallen needles. It was breakfast time for the cockatoos, as they gathered in the trees at the local cemetery.

    To avoid having cones and needles -- or worse -- land on me, I moved along the fence line and in so doing passed close to one of the gardeners. I remarked to him on the vigorous growth of the conifers that had been planted just a few months ago. He replied that he was a volunteer and that the trees were his special responsibility. He went on to describe the other voluntary works he did in the community and how much he enjoyed all these activities as they brought him into contact with a variety of people. His favorite work, however, was gardening because he could take something small, nurture it and watch it grow over time. And when one plant was struggling to keep going, he spent time with it and gave it extra attention and care. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't. The important thing, he said, was to be there, to be watching and "listening" and to be ready to do what one could, to give them all their best chance of life.

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    As I stood waiting to cross the road, I watched him bending over the plants and saw the tenderness and care he was giving to his work. I found my thoughts returning to the church and to the people who didn't seem to be getting the best chance of life, feeling unloved or rejected and seeking a bit more care and attention as they struggle with the paradoxes and ambiguities of life.

    I am grateful, therefore, that our church seems to be in safe hands and will be able to hold people as we explore together how we can each be more faithful to the person of Jesus Christ in ordinary daily life. I congratulate you on being chosen as the chief gardener and I look forward to working with you from my part of the paddock as we journey along as people of faith in this garden of life.

    With every best wishes for you and for all those whose lives you touch.

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