By Amanda Murthy
“You don’t need to be a person of faith in order to be anti-poverty. However, through His grace, our Lord offers us everything we need to be able to do something good for those who most need it. Living our lives in this way is both our responsibility – and our privilege – as followers of Jesus Christ.”
Catholic Youth Ministry (CYM) Chaplain Father Mark Baumgarten offered these words to Catholic school students, staff, and Church agencies gathered to celebrate the Anti-Poverty Mass, held in recognition of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and as part the Year of Youth.
The late-morning Mass was held at Good Shepherd Church, Lockridge Parish on 17 October – with the initiative being a collaborative effort by CYM, Catholic Mission, Caritas, St Vincent De Paul Society, LifeLink, and the Liturgy Office.
It was designed to inspire, encourage, support, and affirm the actions and efforts of young leaders in schools, parishes and university communities, in working towards ending poverty at home and abroad.
A cross bearing messages from students who attended last year’s Mass was ushered in during the entrance procession accompanied by the hymn We are Called, sung by CYM staff.
The cross served as a symbol of solidarity with the poor throughout the world.
Fr Baumgarten was joined by Deacon Paul Reid and eight other priests from the Archdiocese of Perth.
In his homily, Fr Baumgarten noted that when asked what it means to be a follower of Christ, many Catholics offer characteristics such as love, care, compassion, mercifulness, and concern for social justice and the environment.
And yet, while he affirmed that such traits are indeed important, he noted that they are also qualities that non-believers can embrace, and as such they are insufficient to explain the faith.
“So, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?” Fr Baumgarten asked the congregation.
“Whatever else it might be about, it’s definitely got something to do with the Cross.”
Most of us will not be asked to literally die for the faith, he said.
“However, if we’re not able to die to ourselves in a certain sense, we’ll never be able to do any real good for anyone else.
“We might say that we care for the poor and the oppressed, but when the going gets tough – and it will – most people are not able to look past their own needs and wants,” he continued.
“When faced with the sheer scale of human suffering, a merely secular approach tends to burn out before too long.”
Fr Baumgarten added that the most important part of being Catholic is the Eucharist.
“Right now in this very Mass, we are preparing ourselves to encounter the beating heart of our faith. Jesus Christ is both the reason why we strive for justice and the one who gives us the strength and guidance to be able to do anything of value,” he said.
“It is one of the reasons why we are asked to attend Mass each Sunday – so that through the Eucharist, we can be given the strength to witness to Christ in our lives and to serve Him in the world.”
Fr Baumgarten concluded his homily by inviting those present to recognise the Eucharist as the Son of God Himself, the one through whom all things were made and the one who won our salvation upon the Cross.
“If you only partly believe this to true, ask God for an increase in faith.
“Because if we allow it to be, the Eucharist can be an explosion of goodness into our lives and into the world,” he concluded.
Before the final blessing, representatives from each participating school were invited to light their prayer candles, symbolising their efforts to shine a light of hope amidst the darkness of local and global poverty.
The congregation then proceeded to share in a humble meal of bread and water in the parish hall.
Aranmore Catholic College teacher and Sister of Mercy Janina Pascoe said that celebrating Mass together with the many schools served as a reminder of our responsibility to the community.
“Fr Baumgarten beautifully explained that bringing out the hope that being followers of Christ offers, we keep striving to help the poor even though it may be difficult at times,” Sr Pascoe added.
Xavier Catholic School Principal Cathie Bauer said: “It is important that we lead by example to model our faith”.
“Our Christian service and understanding of supporting and helping those less fortunate than ourselves – particularly today in our country, where it is something that is not necessarily happening in front of our eyes,” Ms Bauer concluded.