Truth, weakness and vulnerability in Christchurch and Australia

Fr Brian McCoy SJ reflects on the physical reminders of the Christchurch earthquake seven years ago, and what they tell us about how we engage with our own nation's historical pain.

A group of us travelled last weekend from Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand, for the joyful celebration and priestly ordination of Rob Morris.

As Rob reminded us in his first homily, the day after his ordination, the city of Christchurch provides a thought-provoking backdrop for anyone who wishes to preach the Christian gospel — especially on Corpus Christi Sunday, the feast of the Body of Christ.

Some seven years ago, Christchurch experienced a serious earthquake which left 185 people dead, many buildings destroyed and extensive damage to other infrastructure. Many sights, especially in downtown Christchurch, continue to remind the visitor of the shock, pain and vulnerability experienced by the residents of the city at that time.

Vacant allotments and fenced-off buildings, such as the once large and impressive Catholic Cathedral, provide visible and physical reminders to residents and visitors alike of the power of nature and the fragility of human life.

The structural and evident signs of a city’s brokenness, especially when such sites are not bulldozed and removed from sight, can be stark and confronting. There is no avoiding or denying the past with its lingering memory of community pain.

Here we see no quick and simple attempts to cover over, deny or disguise the past, but a determination to remember and to live patiently, humbly and honestly with it.

As I returned to Australia, we had just completed National Reconciliation Week. Its theme this year, ‘Don’t keep history a mystery’, reminded me that our nation carries its own historical pain with ever-present reminders of a broken past. It reminded me also that our nation now seeks a deeper reconciliation with our First Nations peoples.

I see us as constantly invited to enter a process of deeper reflection on this history and its present manifestations, while seeking a more honest understanding. Like the city of Christchurch, we are invited to face human life on this land with all its truth, weakness and vulnerability.

This journey we share on our ancient land can become a graced journey. Our efforts to live and respond to the needs of the world, to live that hope of Christ’s resurrection, cannot be separated from our recognition of the truth of our past and acceptance of our present human brokenness. We all share in the broken Body of Christ.

Like many of those fragile structures in Christchurch, we too stand in need of repair and reforming. We also stand, with Christ, in hope.

Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial