17 May 2008 - World Youth Day Cross and Icon

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World Youth Day Cross and Icon
Port Arthur, 17 May 2008

Although I myself grew up in Hobart, it was only when I was a teenager and I had the opportunity to spend a few days on a large yacht, that I first visited Port Arthur. Travel by road, admittedly, was not as easy as it is today, but I think there was a significant reluctance on the part of many people, my family included, to make the journey to this very historic and special place.

Port Arthur has, I am sure you will agree, a particular beauty about it, and that was noticed by the people who came to settle here back in the early part of the 19th Century. People were attracted here as a place suitable for ship-building, with the protected harbour and the abundance of trees in the vicinity. For those who needed to make provision for a convict settlement, it fulfilled all the requirements. For those who had to come here, it became a living hell.

All in all, until 1853, some 75,000 convicts were brought here to Port Arthur. 25% were Irish, so we could presume that about a quarter of the total number, some 18,000 in all, shared our particular faith and our baptism. One of the first people to make an effort to bring the terrible transportation policy and practice to a conclusion was our first bishop, Bishop Robert Willson, who had arrived here in Van Diemen’s Land in 1844. It is said that on the day of his arrival, 3 May that year, he walked from the Hobart docks to St. Joseph’s Church were the congregation was waiting for him, of whom the great proportion were convicts.

Fortunately in 1853, the transportation ceased, but for the convicts in question, their imprisonment continued for the rest of their lives. Only a very small number were able to return to the lands of their birth, but most remained prisoners of another kind here in Tasmania.

The other moment of great significance is of course that terrible Sunday afternoon, 28 April 1996, when a total of 35 people, just here for the day like we are, were gunned down by a deranged young man, Martin Bryant. The suffering of many people still continues today in the lives of those who lost partners in marriage, sons and daughters, and close family
friends. They were all people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Gospel reading for today recalls that very special occasion when Jesus took his three senior disciples up to the summit of the mountain, and he was transfigured before them. They were certainly in the right place at the right time. For those fleeting moments, they saw Jesus as he truly was, the Son of God. It was an experience they would never forget, and in their own days of trial, it would have given them strength to keep going.

The transfiguration is not a solitary event in the Gospel. It is one which happens over and over again. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus transfigured many, many people: the broken, the wounded and the wayward. He appealed to the deepest part of people and transfigured them by the power of God’s love.

We can understand transfiguration better when we ask: what would it take to transfigure us? What would it take to transfigure the people we know? Whose name do we call in love? Who calls our name in love? We can transfigure each other by the power of God’s love in us. We are called to the ministry of transfiguration. We can, and you do, convey that transfiguration through our witness and through our words. The Apostle St James reminds us strongly about the power of the word, and we know just how powerful our words can be. They are powerful in terms of what good words we pronounce, or
harmful words we utter.

When I was in England 2004, one of the lecturers at Hawkstone Hall spoke to us very strongly about the power of the word. One word, he reminded us, can change our whole mood completely. Words form and build our self-image. He spoke about the House of the Destructive word and the House of the Creative word. Most importantly, we should live by the Word which comes from the mouth of God.

The message of the cross certainly is powerful in this place. It reminds us of the deaths that occurred here, the suffering that has taken place here, but also the victory that has occurred here. People have continued to live and to love, and that is the invitation for us as well.

The Cross has been carried to many places of suffering throughout the world. It is a sign of victory and resurrection. In the presence of the cross we recall all those who suffered during their lives here or their visits here. But we also celebrate the victory of Jesus, recalled and made present here in these ruins today.

May the Risen Lord, who died on the cross, now raise up all those who died in this place.