The cardinal Pell I know

The Catholic weekly published an article by Samuel Brebner, a 23-year-old Catholic from New Zealand. Among other comments, he said this about Cardinal Pell.

I worked for Cardinal Pell in 2012, as part of a gap year I did with an organisation called NET (National Evangelisation Teams) in Australia. I, along with five other young Catholic adults, were assigned to the Sydney Team. Our full-time job was to do youth ministry in the archdiocese; running high school retreats, organising youth groups, and helping out at large-scale events.

Right from the moment I arrived in Australia, what struck me about Cardinal Pell was the stark differences in the attitudes people held towards him. To some, Pell was a monster, a man who embodied everything bad about that Catholic church and who had allegedly been complicit in covering up sexual abuse by Australian priests.

Yet, among the Catholics that Cardinal Pell ministered to, and among those who worked with him, almost all held him in the highest regard – Pell was a pillar of the Catholic community in Sydney, a faithful priest, and most fundamentally, a good man.

I crossed paths with Cardinal Pell at numerous events during my time in Sydney. Despite inevitably being swamped by people at these events, the Cardinal always made time to speak with my team and I. He would inquire about our success ministering to the youth of Sydney and was often quick to share a joke.

I never got to know the Cardinal in any great depth, but there is one memory of him that I have always held on to.

Towards the beginning of our year in Sydney, the Cardinal invited us out to lunch, to welcome our team to the diocese. Over the course of the meal, the topic of the Cardinal’s ongoing theological study arose, and I expressed to him that one day I too hoped to study theology, perhaps at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney. However, because I was an international student, the cost of tuition was daunting.

Hearing all of this, the Cardinal invited me to write him a letter, telling me that he would “see what I can do.” In the coming month, I learnt that upon receiving my letter, Cardinal Pell had personally written to the Deputy Vice Chancellor on my behalf, inquiring into the possibility of financial aid. When the Cardinal left on a trip to Rome, he ensured that his private secretary followed up on the matter, checking that the university had contacted me.

This man, responsible for ministering to over 4 million people in Sydney, who I’m sure had countless demands on his schedule, took the time to help me, some 18-year old kid from New Zealand, who he had never met before, try to obtain a scholarship…