God with us

As the days of Advent count down, and a sense of anticipation grows, we might ask ourselves: What does it really mean for God to come and live among us, walking beside us in all the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of our lives? And how might we live in the light of this wonderful news, not just at Christmas but throughout the year?

For 31 years, the community of St Anthony’s Glen Huntley have been providing both a delicious meal and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of family to the more than 300 people who gather there each year for Christmas dinner. The two women who started the dinner—and who still coordinate it—speak with us about the privilege of sharing Christmas Day with those without a home or family of their own, and about the surprising ways God has inspired and sustained them.

Last Thursday, friends and family gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a Requiem Mass to farewell the late Fr Gerard Dowling OAM DE, a man who encouraged and walked alongside countless people through his priestly ministry, his many years of counselling, his writing and more than 2,600 episodes of his popular radio program, The Family Counsellor.

Also this week, celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the first Nativity scene continued in Rome as a beautiful creche was unveiled in St Peter’s Square while 150 homeless people enjoyed an unforgettable meal beneath Bernini’s colonnade. On Sunday, the community of St Anthony's Parish, Frankston, welcomed Archbishop Peter A Comensoli as he celebrated Mass and blessed the new Grotto of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace. Members of Victoria’s East Timorese community recently came together at St Patrick’s Cathedral for Mass, the first time it has been celebrated at the Cathedral in Tetum, their native language. A new study explores the important role of Australian Christian churches in helping African migrant communities to settle and thrive in their new home. And distinguished historian Prof Geoffrey Blainey AC spoke at St Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, Toorak, reflecting on his life and career, and on the central role of Christianity in history.

Finally, as we prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, we share quotes from five significant Christian thinkers on the mystery of the Incarnation and its startling implications for every part of our lives.

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Finding a ‘Christmas family’: 31 years of Christmas dinner at St Anthony’s, Glen Huntly
This year, St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Glen Huntly will have been running its annual Christmas dinner for 31 years. Offering an opportunity for those without a family or a home to come together and enjoy a traditional Christmas roast, they cater for more than 300 people every year. Gwen Fitzgerald and Veronica Blair, the women who coordinate this venture, tell us the story behind it, and how God has provided for them along the way.
Pope marks 800th anniversary of Nativity scene as homeless dine under Bernini’s colonnade
In a cave near Greccio, Italy, St Francis of Assisi staged the first Nativity scene for the faithful on Christmas Eve in 1223. A 15th-century fresco now decorating the cave inspired the Nativity scene recently erected in St Peter’s Square for the 800th anniversary celebrations. On 9 December, as 150 homeless people dined under Bernini’s colonnade, the scene was unveiled and the Christmas tree in the square lit up.
Frankston’s St Francis Xavier Parish celebrates blessing of new grotto of Our Lady
In a spirit of great joy, St Francis Xavier Parish, Frankston, celebrated the blessing of its new Grotto of Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace on Saturday 9 December, the solemnity of its namesake. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli presided at the Mass before leading parishioners outside the church to officially bless the grotto and statue.
East Timorese Catholic community ‘back together’ again
On Sunday 3 December, St Patrick’s Cathedral resounded with the voices of Melbourne’s East Timorese Catholic community, raised in song, as the community celebrated Mass in their native language, Tetum, at the Cathedral for the first time. After a few years of setbacks, the community is beginning to come together again, united by their shared faith.
Friends and family farewell Fr Gerard Dowling OAM DE
Melbourne’s own ‘radio priest’ Fr Gerard Dowling OAM DE was farewelled on Thursday 7 December at St Patrick’s Cathedral—the same place he’d been ordained a priest 65 years ago and where he served as dean from 1999 until his retirement in 2003. More than a thousand gathered for the Requiem Mass, with Fr Gerard’s family, friends, fellow clergy, former parishioners and colleagues in attendance.
‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’: Christian churches in the life of African migrant communities
Almost half a million Australians are from African backgrounds, and for many of them, religion plays a central role in their lives, according to Dr Kathleen Openshaw, co-author of a new report on the African Christian community in Australia. Interviewed recently on radio, both Dr Openshaw and Deacon George Piech Meat, a prominent leader in Melbourne's Catholic South Sudanese community, highlighted the crucial role that churches play in welcoming African migrants and helping them to settle and thrive.
Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC reflects on Christianity’s legacy
On Thursday 8 December, around 200 people gathered at St Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Toorak for a talk by Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC, one of Australia’s most popular and prolific historians. Touching on some of the themes of his 2011 bestselling book ‘A Short History of Christianity’, Prof Blainey reflected on the enduring influence of Christ and Christianity on the world.
5 quotes on the Incarnation to ponder this Christmas
As we journey through Advent and approach Christmas, it’s always helpful to have wise guides along with us—thinkers, mystics and saints who can remind us what the season is all about. From CS Lewis to Pope Francis, here are five quotations from important Christian thinkers whose words we may want to ponder in the coming days.
‘Whenever someone sets up a Nativity scene, there is not just Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. We are there. The people of today. We are the shepherds now.’
Giovanna Zabotti, co-curator of the Nativity scene in St Peter’s Square
on the way a Nativity scene can draw us into the wonder of the Incarnation
Upcoming events
Christmas Carols, St Patrick’s Cathedral
Sunday 17 December 2023
Come along for a family concert of traditional and modern Christmas carols in the beautiful and inspiring space of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Featuring Cathedral Brass, Cathedral Schola and the Grand Organ, this performance will include plenty of audience participation, a children’s segment and ‘special guest’ appearance. Tickets: Adult—$30 Concession—$25 Children...
Christmas concert, St Dominic’s Church
Sunday 17 December 2023
St Dominic’s Church, Camberwell East, will be hosting a Christmas concert featuring composers from the 12th to the 21st century. The concert will also be broadcast live by the Australian Digital Concert Hall. Tickets can be booked via TryBooking link. For further information, call 0468 584 309.
Christmas Masses at St Patrick’s Cathedral
Sunday 24 December 2023
St Patrick's Cathedral will once again be live-streaming and televising the Midnight Mass (with carols from 11.30pm) and the 11am Christmas Day Mass to the Archdiocesan YouTube channel and Community Channel C31 (or channel 44 on TV). This year, the schedule of Christmas Masses at St Patrick's is as follows...

To learn more about upcoming events and opportunities, visit the Melbourne Catholic events page.

This newsletter is published by the Communications Office
of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

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