It is an honour to speak on this motion today, and I do so in honour of my late mother in-law who was very active in the Catholic community here in Canberra and was President of the Catholic Women's League, and also the tens of thousands of Catholics in my electorate.
Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign in 600 years, and the pontiff was honest when he said that his age meant that he lacked strength to continue as head of the church. He told a rather stunned world audience that he was standing down for the good of the church. It is indeed an historic event, as that last papal resignation occurred way back in the Middle Ages—600 years ago, I understand. In his last public appearance, tens of thousands turned out in a fitting farewell to Pope Benedict, and his farewell words were to thank everyone for their love and their prayer. He said:
Keep praying for me, for the Church and for the future pope.
His final appearance was indeed moving, and I would like to share a description from Time magazine that beautifully describes the occasion:
The atmosphere was festive and warm, if somewhat bittersweet, as if the faithful were trying to persuade Benedict to stay with them for just a bit longer. A chorus of Italian schoolchildren serenaded him with one of his favorite hymns in German — a gesture that won over the pope, who thanked them for singing a piece “particularly dear to me.”
Looking tired but serene, Pope Benedict XVI told the thousands who gathered for his weekly audience that he was resigning for “the good of the church” — an extraordinary scene that unfolded in his first appearance since dropping the bombshell announcement.
The 85-year-old Benedict basked in more than a minute-long standing ovation when he entered the packed hall for his traditional Wednesday catechism lesson. He was interrupted repeatedly by applause, and many in the audience of thousands had tears in their eyes.
Pope Benedict officially ceases being Pope at 8 pm 28 February, and, fittingly, tributes and praises have flowed from all over the world and from world leaders. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has been described as a church-going Christian, told the media:
We are proud of our countryman, the first for hundreds of years to take up the role of pope.
She added that the pope's decision should be respected in:
…an age where life expectancy is longer than ever, many people will understand that even the pope has to come to terms with the burdens of ageing.
That is a very fitting tribute from the German Chancellor.
As I mentioned before, we have a very large Catholic community here in Canberra; it comprises 25 per cent of the population. It is an interesting population in that a large proportion of the Catholics came here in the fifties to take up public service because, in the fifties, as a result of sectarianism that was still quite rife in Australia, it was very difficult for the professionals—lawyers and white collar workers—to get jobs in law firms and in white collar work. So they were drawn by a sense of duty to the country and by a sense to public service to working in the Australian Public Service.
It is interesting, because there are a number of government departments that are very well known as being Catholic. One of them is Customs and the others are the Australian Taxation Office and also the AttorneyGenerals Department. It is because of that sectarianism that existed in the fifties, where it was difficult for Catholic lawyers to be employed in law firms throughout Australia. As I said, we have a very strong foundation of Catholics here. It is a very strong community, and they have also made a significant contribution to the community.
When I was researching this speech, I went to a piece that the Catholic Voice had written about those Catholics who had made a significant contribution to the Canberra community. One of them was Monsignor Patrick Haydon, who Haydon Drive in Bruce and also the Calvary Haydon Retirement Village are name after. There is also Sylvia Curley, whose house is in my electorate. It is a very basic house—a tin shed one could call it—and she played a very significant role, as did her family, in farming this area of Canberra and also playing an active role in the community. They are just two significant Canberrans, and there are many more that I could list.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to the incredibly strong Catholic school community here. We have 17,000 children enrolled in 30 Catholic schools across the ACT, and the ACT has the highest proportion of Catholic school enrolment in the country. I understand that my electorate of Canberra has that highest proportion in terms of between the electorate of Fraser and the electorate of Canberra. As I said, there are very, very strong Catholic roots and community here at the public service level, the private sector level and the school level.
I want to pay tribute to some of the schools in my electorate whom I spent a lot of time with and who are very proud Catholics and proudly engaged in their community. Those schools are: St John Vianney—my late mother-in-law was associated with the parish there—St Thomas the Apostle and St Francis of Assisi Holy Family. At the secondary level we have a very good relationship with St Mary MacKillop College and St Edmund's and St Clare's colleges. They are all great schools, all doing wonderful and all doing wonderful work in promoting Catholicism and public service here in Canberra. There is also St Benedict's in Narrabundah.
On behalf of the people of Canberra I pay tribute to Pope Benedict XVI for all the work he has done and the contribution he has made to Catholicism and the world community. We wish him well in his retirement and for his good health. Again, I would like to underscore the fact that this speech is in honour of my later mother-in-law.