As many as 8000 Australians are expected to arrive in Rome in coming days so they can say they were there when Mary MacKillop, a 19th-century nun who taught, and cared for, the poor, was declared the nation’s first saint.
They will not have it all their way, though.
Five others – a Pole, two Italians, a Spaniard and a Canadian – will also be admitted to the Catholic canon of revered holy names at the same Vatican ceremony next Sunday.
Australia’s Catholic community is determined to make its presence felt at the historic occasion.
Two vigil performances on MacKillop’s life, at one of Rome’s main auditoriums, have sold out.
On the day after the canonisation, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell will lead a special Australian thanksgiving mass at St Paul’s Outside The Walls.
The Vatican Museum will also open its doors to stage a special Australian Night on Friday. It will feature a display of rare indigenous artefacts taken to Rome by missionary priests during early colonial days.
The main tour provider, Harvest Pilgrimages, has faced a major logistical exercise ensuring Australian pilgrims get value for money.
The company will operate non-stop walking tours of Rome from Thursday to Saturday, following in the footsteps of Mary MacKillop when she went to the Holy See in the 1870s to petition the Pope to grant her order independence.
“We will have nuns playing the part of Mary and leading the groups on the walk. We have more than 50 of them lined up to do the job,” Harvest Pilgrimages managing director Philip Ryall said.
“The range of people going is huge. We have many young people and a 91-year-old. There’s even an atheist coming with his wife.”
Tour groups are being led by priests and members of other religious orders. Each pilgrim has been given a tour pack that includes the prayers of Mary MacKillop and a journal.
Sister Maria Casey, who has been promoting Mary MacKillop’s cause for the past few years, said pilgrims were coming to Rome for Mary’s canonisation from other countries where she had an impact – New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Peru.
MacKillop followers will gather under a huge banner of her that will be hung in St Peter’s Square.
Australia’s Holy See ambassador, former federal MP Tim Fischer, has been dispensing pithy advice to the coming hordes via Twitter. Recent messages include: “Weather cooling down in Rome expect anything and everything in mid October” and a reminder Australia and Italy have a health agreement so “pack your Medicare card and get travel insurance”.
Source: Herald Sun