Canonisation Part of Healing Process for Church

By Denis Shanahan
The Australian
October 18, 2010

FOR the 37 pilgrims from Newcastle, the journey to canonisation ceremony in Rome began long before the mass in St Peter's Square.

In 2004, the parish congregation decided to take on the name MacKillop Parish, the only one by that name in Australia.

For others, the journey started earlier and involved an inoperable cancer that is now deemed to have been cured miraculously and was the tipping point in the decision to grant Mother Mary MacKillop sainthood.

But for all of them, including non-Catholic pilgrim Les Harris from Singleton near Newcastle, the experience has been "absolutely wonderful".

Flying from Newcastle and travelling with the cured cancer victim for whom they all prayed, the pilgrims -- part of an estimated 8000 Australians in Rome for the canonisation of Australia's first saint -- believe the sainthood of an "ordinary Australian" imbued with "Australian egalitarianism" is a great thing for all, believers and non-believers alike.

Tony Bonaventura, the head of the oncology department at the Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle, said the pilgrims had had their faith enhanced by the experience of their friend's recovery, the pilgrimage and the canonisation.

Dr Bonaventura was taken aback when he reviewed the case of the cancer recovery and concluded it was "the hand of God".

"She had a very nasty cancer and had no treatment. She was told she was going to die and yet a year later she was clear," Dr Bonaventura told The Australian.

"My task was to review the case first hand and I had to check to see if it was a quirk of nature and if there was a medical explanation. But it was inexplicable; she had an aggressive cancer and was now clear. From a personal perspective, the only answer I have is that it was the hand of God."

While Dr Bonaventura did not identify the woman because of professional confidentiality, at the weekend she identified herself in a statement to media.

Kathleen Evans, who was cured of lung and brain cancer in 1993, said she considered Mary MacKillop a friend.

"I'm humbled by the example she set in her lifetime, and my family, and I will always be grateful for the miracle she asked for on my behalf," she said.

"But more than that, I now think of Mary as a friend. I feel very close to her and the relationship means a great deal to me. "

The parish's priest, Robert Searle, said the pilgrimage had been a "discovery of faith" for him and his fellow travellers.

Father Searle believes the canonisation has come at a crucial time for his parish, which has been hit hard by revelations of past sexual abuse by clergy.

He said the connection with MacKillop will help.

"I believe the prayers and pilgrimage and the canonisation will be the beginning of the healing process for our diocese," he said.

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