Diary Australia

Australian diary

1 October 2015

1:00 PM

1 October 2015

1:00 PM

When I signed up to work for the Catholic Church, I was delighted to see a clause in my contract about renewal leave after a specified time in the job. Renewal leave is for personal reflection with a particular focus on the spiritual and professional dimensions of work. Unsurprisingly, I find myself at the end of my renewal leave here in beautiful Rome.

I had the good fortune of being invited to Cardinal Pell’s apartment next to St Peter’s Square for a pleasant Saturday lunch with the Cardinal, his principal adviser, Danny Casey and wife Annie. Cardinal Pell and Danny Casey have worked together for more than fouteen years in the Archdiocese of Sydney and now Rome and have developed a close and highly effective working relationship.

The success of Cardinal Pell’s financial management of the Archdiocese of Sydney was doubtlessly one of the reasons why Pope Francis asked him to be the Secretary of the Economy for the world wide Church. There was much discussion at lunch about the Cardinal and Danny Casey’s work in Rome, some of which was mentioned in a recent meaty article in the New Yorker.

The challenges associated with overhauling the financial management of a 2000 year old Church are immense. Resilience, determination, intelligence and focus are just a few of the qualities required to overcome vested interests, bureaucratic inertia and relentless push back that comes with reforming any type of entrenched culture.

Transparently and well managed finances are essential if the Church is to continue to deliver on its commitment to the world’s most vulnerable and poor. Pope Francis made a prudent decision to appoint a Cardinal with real conviction and back bone, who as we know in Australia, genuinely stands up for what he believes.

Earlier in my trip, I was in Nairobi as part of a group called the Commonwealth Study Conference Leaders, a joint initiative of the Duke of Edinburgh Study Conferences and a UK based organisation called Common Purpose. We were looking at Nairobi as a developing smart city and found ourselves moving between Government offices and the slums of Nairobi. Sadly, there is nothing smart about Nairobi’s abominable traffic, which according to locals gets worse every year.

By far the most impressive time of the Nairobi trip was meeting a man called Boniface Mwangi, a photo journalist and anti-corruption activist. He has endured frequent beatings, detention and threats from police and Government officials for campaigning against the endemic corruption that cripples Kenyan society and its development. Basic access to clean water, shelter, health care and education are all compromised by a self serving political system. Boniface Mwangi’s quest for a corruption-free Kenya is truly a life and death struggle and I pray for his protection on what is a perilous life journey.

Most travellers can attest that the taxi industry has been in desperate need of renewal for many years. As is often the case it’s the innovation of others that imposes change on an established industry which is exactly what Uber has done. I only started using Uber on this trip and I’m an instant convert. Reliability, predictability and convenience are all part of the Uber business model. So my decision to take a taxi from the airport in New York was a curious one, but I was tired. The fare was fixed and it was right up in front of me as I left the airport. We sped from the terminal like a getaway car from a bank robbery gone horribly wrong. My driver lost his phone, stopped along a freeway to find it, took a series of wrong turns and U-turns and maniacally exceeded the speed limit. If this was the best a regulated industry could do, give me Uber any day of the week.

My last day was spent at a Papal Audience (I managed to see the Pope from a distance) and the Scavi Tour of St Peter’s tomb which is a must for any Catholic visiting Rome. I leave Rome tomorrow to return to Australia and yet another Prime Minister. The Italians were once famous for the regularity with which they changed their leaders – perhaps Australia is more Italian than we think.

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