More than a thousand people filled St Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday 20 March for a special afternoon of prayer, the Rosary, Mass and a street procession, coming together to seek the intercession of our Our Lady for peace and unity in the world. It was the first time in three years that the “Walk with Mary” was able to take place, with people travelling from across the Archdiocese to take part. Bishop Tony Ireland led the Mass which concluded with a solemn entrustment of all present to Our Lady.

In his homily for the third Sunday of Lent, Bishop Ireland drew connections between the events of the Gospel and the current conflict in Ukraine, and encouraged the congregation to see the deeper layers of meaning in Jesus’ words to his followers.

‘We could very easily compare this Sunday’s Gospel with what has been happening in Ukraine. Someone has defiled the holy places – their homes. Their prayer has been mixed with blood,’ said Bishop Ireland.

‘Tragic events remind us that life is precious and precarious. Tragedy and death are part of life. People who die because of the violence of a troubled individual or who die in accidents or natural disasters remind us that we cannot take our life for granted. We cannot say that these people died because of their sinfulness – Jesus corrected that thought.

Cruelty like the Bourke Street Mall “massacre” a few years ago, the Ukrainian war, and natural disasters, as have been recently experienced in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland are all tragedies. But there is a whole deeper layer of meaning in the Gospel of the third Sunday of Lent.

‘Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem ... and he is met by people who tell him that some people who had made the same journey from Galilee to Jerusalem were cruelly murdered and that Pilate had desecrated the Jerusalem temple by throwing their blood into blood of the animal sacrifices. Pilate’s cruelty included physical torture and murder, psychological torment and spiritual desecration.

‘Pilate was a cruel Roman occupier in Jerusalem and Galileans had been going up to Jerusalem with the intention of overthrowing the Roman forces and bringing down Pilate’s rule. Yet, Jesus was also going to Jerusalem – to go to the Temple for Passover – not to overthrow Pilate. And so he was telling the Galileans to stop trying to oust Pilate.

‘The great irony was that Jesus was heading for Jerusalem; he wouldn’t be deterred and later he would be tried before Pilate for treason and crucified as king of the Jews – even though he would tell Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.

‘We hear his warning not simply to be political activists but to be people who hear the invitation to accept into our hearts the One whose kingdom is not of this world. We also hear the consoling fig tree parable on the lips of Jesus – that says that God is waiting patiently; he will not cut you or me down instantly but with love he tends us, giving us the opportunity to flourish and grow.

God hears the cry of those suffering oppression and he wants them not to be warriors but to be people who are renewed in spirit calling on him who is kind and merciful, who crowns us with love and compassion. Jesus is inviting his immediate and his extended audience to put down the weapons of destruction, and make choices for life, love and beauty in this world, and for the kingdom that is not of this world.

‘As we continue the Lenten journey and make the walk with Mary,’ Bishop Ireland continued, ‘perhaps contemplate Mary as the sorrowful mother as her son made the journey to Jerusalem.’

Sunday’s gathering was organised by the Combined Societies of Mary, a lay volunteer organisation formed in 1987 to promote devotion to the Blessed Mother. Members of the Combined Societies of Mary come from all over the Archdiocese of Melbourne and wider Victoria, and are invited to grow in their love of God and neighbour through personal prayer, devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary and the regular reception of the sacraments.