Cardinal George Pell: suffering brought our nation together

When our pilgrim group of Sydney teachers was sitting in the ancient amphitheatre at Ephesus, another group of Australians started to sing Advance Australia Fair for the tourists from many nations.

They were pleasantly surprised when our group joined them. Mostly young, they were on their way to Gallipoli, with many New Zealanders.

Officials estimated about 7000 attended the combined Dawn Service at Anzac Cove.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave two excellent speeches. At Lone Pine she rose to the occasion splendidly and captured the significance of the Anzacs for our history and our evolving self-understanding.

No Australian at Gallipoli was a conscript; all were free men from a free country.

She explained that the boys of federation became the men of Gallipoli, starting a new story for a new nation.

Despite their defeat, we still take pride in their bravery (seven Victoria Crosses were won at Lone Pine) as we struggle to come to grips with the misery and slaughter.

No country in World War I had a higher casualty rate than Australia except New Zealand.

Most Australians know how 75,000 British Empire and French troops invaded Turkey on April 25, 1915, secured and held two bridgeheads against ferocious Turkish resistance, suffered from heat and then cold, from disease and discomfort, from disappointment at the lack of progress, from the stench of the dying and the nuisance of fat, green “corpse flies” before they withdrew eight months later.

Some other facts are not so well known.

For more than 2000 years, Turkey has been a principal gateway for invading armies between Europe and Asia.

Despite this, their respect for the Allied war graves, their welcome and participation in our memorial services are remarkable gestures.

Some 8700 Australians died on Gallipoli, but 22,000 British soldiers were also killed and there were 250,000 Turkish casualties; 2721 New Zealanders died from a population of 1 million.

Like most Australians, Catholics opposed conscription but supported the Allied war aims.

Many Catholics fought and died and common suffering drew the Protestant and Catholic communities closer.

Ancient wrongs and mutual antagonisms were seen in a new light and Christian forgiveness encouraged greater tolerance.

Only a nation with deep Christian roots and belief in redemptive sacrifice could set this Anzac failure at the heart of its legends.


Cardinal George Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney


Additional reading

News category: Features.

Tags: , , , , , ,