Not all Mass and Singing


What glorious sunshine Sydney is getting these winter days.

It would be even better if I wasn’t in the same pair of jeans I’ve been wearing since Sunday. How completely feral.

After the feedback from yesterday’s piece, I’m starting to wonder if admitting to dirty clothes is less feral and more forgivable than owning up to finding intellectual clarity in the Catholic Church.

Yes, intellectual clarity. Save me. I must be a lost soul.

I arrived in Sydney for WYD on Monday morning and am getting used to daily life as a pilgrim. Wednesday morning started very early, after a very late night. You need to get up early to beat the peak hour traffic in the bathrooms. Waiting for a cold shower is a bleary experience I’d like to be done with as quickly as possible. The hot water doesn’t get even a minute to gather its strength.

I’m pretty lucky though. I met a group from Texas who were sharing three showers between 150 people. Where I’m staying the ratio of showers to humans is a little higher. So if Sydney seems to stink at the moment, I hope this explains part of it.

Breakfast is the usual fare – fruit and cereal. There’s toast, if you can be stuffed waiting for it again. At least at breakfast you’re only competing with 400 other people, not 40,000 like the other meals.

The more formal part of the day kicks off with Catechesis. This is essentially an opportunity to hear from a bishop about a particular doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is a chance to "listen, reflect and ask questions". Catechesis is followed by a simple Mass and lunch.

We leave the accommodation site where all this takes place and it’s off to the festival events. Some are crazy fun, some are a bit more sombre. Just to challenge myself a bit I go for sombre.

My first event involved listening to a frustrated nun give a talk entitled "Woman and Church". This isn’t the forum to explore such a complex theological issue. What I will say is that I am still undecided on the question of women being apparently underrepresented in the Catholic Church. I’ve made a mental note to self to stop sitting on the proverbial fence and start doing some serious study on what the different arguments are.

The next session I attended was even more provocative — but being less theological in nature, it was easier to grapple with. "Pro-woman, pro-life". Yep. I’m sure, esteemed reader, I don’t need to spell out what this was about. But before you eat your shorts in rage, it was not a "fire and brimstone" take on abortion. It was — in a nutshell — telling us Catholics to wake up to the distress of women when they have an abortion and to do something about it.

Sure, there are women who are totally satisfied with ending a pregnancy, and for them, life goes on. But there are plenty of others who are totally crushed by the experience. While the Catholic Church is clear that it cannot support ending a growing life, it also recognises that life of the woman who is still alive after her pregnancy ends. She is often left to grieve alone or unsupported for the loss of a child she may have borne in other circumstances. We cannot stand by and pretend there is nothing we can do about her grief nor that she should be happy she got rid of an unwanted pregnancy.

The session also explored the even less talked about question of the impact of abortion on men. The abortion debate has been understandably skewed towards a woman’s choice. Just because a woman ends a pregnancy, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the father wants to do so.

I went to two more sessions and was home — finally — by 11pm. One session was on the question of creation and evolution, the other on the question of sex and love. The latter session has a follow up this evening, so I’ll elaborate on it in my next update.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.