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Operation Testament; Walk for Christian Unity

Australia’s Military Diocese Prepares for Youth Event

By Catherine Smibert

SYDNEY, JAN. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Military Ordinate of Australia has announced that an expected 1,000 pilgrims from military forces around the world will be received for the military Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day this July.

Operation Testament, as it is code-named, is part of the Australian Defense Force’s contribution to World Youth Day 2008, to take place July 15-18 in Sydney. The military Days in the Diocese will be held July 9-14 in Canberra — Australia’s capital city.

According to the head of Australia’s military diocese, Bishop Maxwell Davis, this will be one of the biggest peacetime gatherings of international military personnel Australia has ever seen.

He explained, “As the Catholic military pilgrims from across the globe gather in Canberra for the Days in the Diocese, it will be an opportunity for this community to exchange cultural and spiritual experiences which are vital in such a vocation to peacekeeping.”

I discussed with the bishop the fact that for some Catholics there is confusion about how Christians can serve in the military at all.

That’s why the prelate emphasized, “All activities in the military Days in the Diocese prior to World Youth Day will focus on what the actual aims are of the armed forces — peace, friendship and goodwill.”

In fact, the theme of the military Days in the Diocese is “Blessed are the Peacemakers; They Will be Called Children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Activities planned include a sports afternoon labeled as the military’s “Goodwill Games,” a liturgy at the Australian War Memorial, which will focus on praying for peace, and a formal dinner at the Great Hall of Parliament House.

On Sunday, July 13, the same international military contingent will celebrate Mass en route to Sydney at the Pauline Fathers’ Monastery and Marian Shrines at Penrose Park, Berrima. The delegates will then be based at Sydney’s Randwick Army Barracks for the duration of the week of World Youth Day.

Bishop Davis desires that the occasion be an opportunity for military personnel to be recognized for “some of the outstanding things they do,” such as making tremendous personal sacrifices in the interest of securing peace in many troubled parts of the world.

He added, “The compassion and spirit shown by the young members of the Australian Defense Force alone, both in the enlisted and officer ranks, leave me with nothing but hope and comfort that they are truly making positive contributions to stability in our world.”

That’s why Bishop Davis and his team underline the lack of Catholic chaplains, especially priests, available to the Australian military today. They hope World Youth Day will be a catalyst to renew interest in chaplain services to assist in the spiritual lives of these men and women working for our security.

Corporal Thomas Pulliene, a young Catholic soldier serving with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, agrees.

He described the need for religious ministry for personnel deployed away from their families as desperate: “When we are deployed to the Middle East, one of the most beautiful experiences for me and my fellow Catholics is the opportunity to receive Holy Communion during Mass. … It’s not a regular occurrence, but the sight of a Catholic chaplain in the desert is wonderful.”

This is why the corporal is particularly looking forward to getting a spiritual lift from his fellow Catholic soldiers, sailors and air personnel during the military Days in the Diocese.

And there’s always room for more, according to Bishop Davies: “I am delighted to invite all military communities to join our diocese in a pilgrimage of faith, in the hope of celebrating the love of the Holy Spirit with the Holy Father and over 500,000 young people from around the world.

“In this great hope, I encourage all military people to come and unite in Australia under the context of peace, goodwill and friendship. I am certain that many lifelong friendships will be created and inspired by the Holy Spirit during our Days in the Diocese activities and at World Youth Day. There are no doubts in my mind that the ‘mateship’ qualities of the Anzac spirit will radiate throughout this significant event.”

The Australian Defense Force will provide accommodation, meals and transport for Australian and international military pilgrims.

“I am extremely appreciative of all the support given to our diocese by the chief of Defense Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, and his hardworking staff at the Department of Defense. The generosity shown by the Defense Department is yet another example of the professionalism of the Australian Defense Force,” said Bishop Davis.

Although organized by the Catholic Church, military members of all faiths and all Christian denominations are welcome to participate.

Monsignor Greg Flynn, Catholic Principal Chaplain of the Army told me they “recognize and value the positive effect that all faiths have on young members of the military.”

“Young people of faith, in the military will be future leaders and decision-makers of the world, and World Youth Day will demonstrate that religious chaplaincy is of extreme importance in the Australian Defense Force and in the armed forces around the world.”

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The Long Route

One young Australian has set out on what is officially the longest pilgrimage to World Youth Day in history.

Despite being devoted to his work with the Australian Youth Mission Team for the past 5 years, 28-year-old Sam Clear suddenly felt the call to something else.

In December 2006, after selling all his possessions and carefully studying world maps, he began walking around the world on foot, praying for the unity of all Christians.

Clear asks people he meets along the way, either face-to-face or via his Web site, to join his plight by setting their watches to pray for the unity of Christians at 4:01 each day, a reference to Ephesians 4:1.

I have been catching up with Clear via social networking sites where he has revealed what struggles he is offering up for the cause of Christian unity. The 6-foot, 5-inch former Australian Rules football player is logging an average of 20 to 30 miles a day, but some days he can clock up to 60.

“I’ve walked nearly 10,000 kilometers [6,213 miles] so far, and been mugged, robbed, held at gun point and been hit by rocks,” he revealed in one letter to me. “All up it has been a roller coaster year typified by long, lonely days on the road with nothing to do but pray and sing U2 songs!”

My old friend continued: “I’ve had typhoid fever, salmonella, food poisoning four times, a stress fracture, and have come face to face with hungry, wild animals (ie. a Puma). … But, I’m still walking on by the grace of God and stopping in churches along the way to extend that invitation to pray.”

Interest in the walk has varied from place to place, Clear said.

“Some places rebuke me because I’m Catholic, while others extend the hand of hospitality. … Some cities don’t blink an eye as I pass through, while others come out with a full media entourage.”

A mechanical engineer by trade, Clear says it was Australia’s high rate of youth suicide which led him to work for the past five years in youth ministry, and observing the depressing affect of the international brokenness of the Body of Christ that led him to his epic trek.

“I’m not a theologian, I’m not a philosopher, and I don’t walk pretending to be. I know I can argue pretty well, and I know my faith,” he told me in another letter.

But most importantly, he the pilgrim said, it’s following St. Paul’s acknowledgement that they will know we are Christians by our love that counts.

“I’ve stayed with padres, archbishops, Pentecostal ministers, random people I’ve met,” he says. “I’ve put my hammock up on a farm, and I’ve slept at the Venezuelan National Guard’s station and I simply pray and show affection for each one of them.”

Clear even followed Pope John Paul II’s example by going to visit one of his attackers in hospital and gifting him with a holy card and rosary beads.

“There’s a lot of visible discord and mistrust among Christians,” Clear said. “And for many people, that’s the witness of Christianity to them.”

Clear admits that Christians may never be perfectly united, but it is still important to aim for perfect unity, as perfect unity is perfect love.

The final leg of his is trip will see him walking from Russia to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain — one of the most renowned pilgrimage walks.

This young, determined pilgrim is due to finish his 28,000 kilometer (17,398 miles) globetrotting exercise just in time for World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney where he will be speaking at an event promoted by the Capuchin Franciscans at Bondi Beach on Tuesday, and then one of the key events on Thursday night.

But, as Clear will remind his peers, this is a task too big for one person to take on. But, he adds, “with the willingness in most people I’ve met to pray for unity … well, I’m confident that if we’re united in prayer, anything is possible.”

* * *

Catherine Smibert is a freelance writer in Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.

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