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Of Pandas and Priests

Priests are like pandas
Dressed in black and white
And in short supply

by Mary Cook

One afternoon a week I lead a prayer service at our local Presbyterian Hostel. In the regular gathering are several Catholics who, because of their infirmities from age cannot get to Sunday Mass. Communion is distributed to them during the service and discreetly whilst meditation is in progress. A high proportion of residents like to participate by just coming along. They are both Catholic and from other Christian faiths and all are encouraged to pray together.

My challenge is to lead a prayerful liturgy of the Word using either the scriptures of the day or those from the nearest Sunday. Creativity is needed to make this prayer time both meaningful and memorable Last week I decided to take a large picture of the endangered Panda. Why? I did wonder that myself! I just felt compelled. The picture belongs to my sons, inherited from their father, and it was just lying around the house waiting to be hung. So here is this magnificent animal exisiting since before the Ice Age whose favourite food is Bamboo. The scarcity of the animal is in part connected to the shortage of available Bamboo due to expansion of the human population and intensive farming in China. I decided to incorporate the picture somehow in the prayer service.

All that was needed was packed ready in the boot of my car. I was about to leave when a phone call came from the Hostel to inform me that there was a new resident: an elderly Chinese gentleman, and a Catholic. His two daughters, also Catholics, were assisting settling their father to settle in and asked could they come along with him. And they did. How fortuitous my choice of the Panda picture and how the Spirit is always at work, I ruminated to myself. The picture brought smiles of joy from all the residents, especially the newest resident. The daughters of the elderly Chinese gentleman asked me whether priests come to the Hostel. I explained that they are unable to come on a regular basis, but from time to time the parish priest does his best to visit or arrange for another priest to visit for the Sacrament of Anointing for the Catholic residents. I explained that our priests are like the Panda. They both are decked in black and white, and they both are endangered and in short supply!

So between a parishioner, who is a minister of the Eucharist, and myself, we do our best to ensure this group of Christians are provided with a service of the Word each week from the local Catholic community. Situations such as the elderly confined to Hostels brings to the fore the necessity for lay ministry in the Church today. Evangelisation is the work of all Christians, not to be relegated to the clergy alone.

Pandas and priests will always be loved and sought after and mourned for their scarcity. They are valued and honoured, but one day pictures to hang on walls may be all we have left of them. Only the future will tell.

Mary Cook holds a Masters in Theology and is a pastoral associate at St Mark's Catholic Church, Drummoyne, in Sydney.

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