Representatives from Catholic Social Services Victoria, along with members of Victoria’s various faith communities and political leaders gathered on the steps of Parliament in Melbourne this morning to pray for the people who have lost their lives and for the devastation of land, property and wildlife caused by the recent bushfires.
The special multifaith gathering was hosted by the Faith Communities Council of Victoria and the Multi-faith Advisory Group (which is convened by the Victorian Multicultural Commission. It was a public show of appreciation, and an opportunity to say thank you to the firefighters, emergency services and volunteers for their dedication, bravery and service.
Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO led the Welcome to Country on the steps, followed by a welcome to all by Viv Nguyen, Commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. Wamba Wamba man, cultural educator, storyteller and musician, Uncle Ron Murray addressed the crowd, reminding all of the fragility of Mother Earth. He invited all to close their eyes as he played the didgeridoo.
In addressing the gathering, Rev. Dr Hugh Kempster of St Peter's Eastern Hill stated: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the families, friends and communities of the 34 victims of fires that have died, including our incredibly brave and dedicated fire fighters who have died while on duty. And our American friends who died so tragically ... may they rest in peace."
"The fires have touched all of us. We gather here today to support our Premier and the parliament of Victoria in their efforts to lead our state, to support the recovery efforts, and to show our support for the bushfire victims, the fire fighters, volunteers, aid agencies, armed forces and other emergency services."
He invited all to join him in prayer and meditation:
We are filled with sorrow. Our souls are heavy with grief. How long will the fires last? How will the destruction and death continue?
We grieve for the loss of human life, of homes, of farms and businesses, of animals, plants and trees, the scarring of the earth.
We are saddened for the original custodians of this land, for teh poor and marginalised, disproporionately affected by the fires.
We afraid because so often these fires are beyond our control.
We are thankful for the fire fighters and others who work tirelessly to protect our people, our land, all creation.
For the volunteers, for those who donate money, supplies, their homes, to assist those in need.
Fill us all with compassion and mercy, to stand alongside our sisters and brothers affected by the fire.
Anoint and soothe the wounds of the victims, seen and unseen.
May we be balm to one another. Heal the land, the people, the flora and fauna.
Heal our hearts, make us new again.
Help us to find consolation and be grateful for the many gifts and joys present in the midst of this tragedy.
Reveal to us the paths to life and renewal. Fill us with love, guide us in hope and lead us to act with mercy and compassion.
In his address, Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews praised the efforts of many faith-based communities on the ground, helping those in their time of need:
"Today is an opportunity for us to say thank you for the amazing way in which we've come together," he said. "At a time when we've seen the very worst in nature, we've seen the best of our human spirit, the best of our humanity, the best of what makes us proud Victorians."
"And as I've moved from one fire affected community to the next, I know of the support, the love, the encouragement of so many generous Victorians - first among them often, faith leaders, communities of faith - coming together to provide everything from meals and assistance of a very practical nature, through to counselling and a shoulder to cry on. Many tears have been shed, many hugs have been given. Great comfort has been taken from that sense that we're all in this together."
Premier Andrews acknowledged the members of the emergency services that were at the gathering. "Regardless of the colour of the uniform that our different members of our emergency services family wear, regardless of whether they're paid or volunteer, each of them have done us proud these last few months. We have a long way to go in what is a very challenging fire season but each of them have been the best of us. ... we can never too often thank you for what you do."
Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Michael O'Brien and Leader of the Greens, Dr Samantha Ratnam also addressed the crowd expressing solidarity with those impacted by the bushfires, and gratitude for the emergency services personnel. The gathering ended with a minute's silence and Uncle Ron playing the didgeridoo.