Easter at the top of the diocese

Dederang 450By Jackson Saunders
Sandhurst Seminarian

It’s home to 40,000 people and is the biggest parish in the Sandhurst Diocese.
There are three primary schools and a secondary college in the parish, as well as an impressive and diverse array of parish groups. Then there’s the four country churches within the parish.
This is the parish of Wodonga, which also encompasses the surrounding communities of Mount Beauty, Dederang, Bethanga and Tamgambalanga.
These are the communities where I was privileged to be able to celebrate Easter this year.
It was inspiring to see so many parishioners, more than 2000 people in fact, involved in the Easter ceremonies under the leadership of newly arrived Parish Priest, Fr Junjun Amaya, and Assistant Priest, Fr Junray Rayna.
Holy Thursday in Wodonga
The day began with morning prayer with a group of parishioners at the original parish church of Wodonga, St Augustine’s, which is situated next to the presbytery in High Street.
About a dozen parishioners gathered to mark the beginning of the Easter Triduum, which reaches its high point at the Easter Vigil and recalls the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
The morning prayer service was followed by a visit to the largest primary school in the Diocese, St Monica’s Primary School, Wodonga, with close to 600 students, where Fr Junray Rayna and myself led a Stations of the Cross liturgy. This was a most moving and prayerful liturgy where students processed with banners of each station.
While there was obvious excitement and restlessness among the students with the beginning of their school holidays only hours away, there was also a sense of reverence and wonder as they reflected on how Jesus gave his life for us.
Holy Thursday night
The evening of Holy Thursday we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Sacred Heart Church, Wodonga.
About 250 people attended the celebration, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
A highlight of the liturgy included recalling how Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples. Parish Priest, Fr Junjun Amaya, washed and kissed the feet of 12 parishioners as the congregation prayerfully sang, ‘A New Commandment.’
As I observed this taking place and listened to the lyrics of the song, I reflected on the deep love that Jesus shows to me. The words of the refrain are always moving to contemplate and prayerfully consider: “A New Commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you, that you love one another as I loved you. By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
The ceremony of the washing of the feet was then followed by a pledge of commitment by all parishioners to the works and mission of Sacred Heart Parish, Wodonga. This was immediately followed by a pledge of commitment from the parish Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers, before Parish Priest, Fr Junjun Amaya, renewed his commitment to the parish.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed as we celebrated the feast of the institution of the Eucharist.
Holy Thursday night concluded with a prayerful Watch of the Blessed Sacrament and a large group of parishioners staying to spend time with the Lord in prayer.
Good Friday at Dederang and Mount Beauty
The day of commemorating the Lord’s Passion began in Wodonga with a morning prayer service at St Augustine’s at 8am.
While Fr Junjun stayed in Wodonga for the Good Friday services afterwards, I had the opportunity to travel with Fr Junray to the outlying country churches of Dederang and Mount Beauty.
The first stop was St Joseph’s Dederang for a Stations of the Cross service.
Dederang is a town of about 400 people and is situated in the Kiewa River Valley, about 50km south of Wodonga. The main industry is beef farming, while the area is also popular for diary and trout fishing.
When we arrived at St Joseph’s Dederang, I immediately fell in love with the Church.
Stunning trees, including palms, and immaculately kept green lawns surround the church, which is situated alongside dairy farms and grazing cattle on the mountainous Kiewa Valley Highway.
St Joseph’s is a homely red-brick church, which was built in 1914 on land donated by Henry Goonan, great-grandfather of the late Fr Michael Goonan. A plaque to recognise the life of Fr Goonan and his 31 years of priestly work in the Sandhurst Diocese proudly sits outside the church and recognises St Joseph’s Dederang as “his home church.”
After a brief chat with parishioners, we began our outdoor Stations of the Cross service.
About 15 parishioners, young and old, were present to walk around the gardens of the Church as we prayed the 14 Stations of the Cross.
It was a clear sunny day and the weather seemed somewhat heavenly, as we contemplated how Jesus had died for us so as to win our eternal salvation.
I was filled with a deep sense of peace as we spent time with the Lord in prayer amidst his beautiful creation. The warmth of the blazing sun, as the morning chill began to disappear, was a sign of God’s great love for us, as I pondered the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross.
While I was deeply moved by the experience, I was also momentarily distracted and amused by the tractor which decided to start up during the middle of our outdoor Stations of the Cross service. All of a sudden, the quiet sense of prayerful peacefulness was competing against the loud engines of the tractor working about 50 metres across the road. It was wonderful to experience!
After the 10.30am Stations of the Cross service concluded, a morning tea was offered. No one was in any rush to leave and the strong sense of community was evident as everyone stayed for a cuppa for 30-40 minutes.
The next stop after Dederang for Fr Junray and myself was 30 minutes further south along the Kiewa Valley Highway at Mount Beauty. Here we will celebrate the Lord’s Passion at 3pm at the local church, which also has St Joseph as its patron.
The scenery on the way to Mount Beauty is stunning and I can only begin to imagine how the area looks during in the snow season. The district of Mount Beauty is home to 2300 people, and is nestled at the foot of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain at 1986 metres.
As Fr Junray and myself travelled to Mount Beauty, we shared with each other different prayer experiences and discussed our admiration for God’s beauty expressed through the mountains. We talked about the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus where he becomes radiant in glory at the top of the mountain (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36). The moment powerfully illustrates how humankind meets God. This idea also reminds me about what we celebrate on Good Friday.
God has come to meet us through his son, Jesus Christ, who is prepared to lay down his life for us in a total act of self-giving love. While Jesus is divine, he has demonstrated to us the love of God in a very human way. In other words, I am reminded through my 2018 Good Friday experience that humankind has met with God.
About 50 people gathered for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3pm at St Joseph’s, Mount Beauty. After the liturgy, parishioners once again were in no hurry to depart as they chatted to one another.
After a visit to parishioners with Fr Junray, we returned to the Wodonga presbytery in the early evening.
Holy Saturday in Wodonga
The Easter Triduum celebrations continue in the Wodonga Parish with a morning prayer service for the third successive day. This ceremony is based on the prayers offered in the Divine Office, which is also known as the Prayer of the Church. It is a moving liturgy. We began with 15 candles shining brightly and as we continued, the candles are gradually extinguished. This is symbolic as we reflect on the darkness of the Good Friday experience.
As Easter people and believers of the risen Jesus, however, we know that our celebrations will descend out of the darkness and back into the joyous light of Easter as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at the Easter Vigil that night.
Mid Holy Saturday morning, Fr Junjun and I visited Sacred Heart Church, Wodonga, to continue our preparations for the Easter Vigil.
I was blown away by the vibrancy and energy of parishioners as they prepared for what is the most important Mass in the liturgical year.
There were more than 20 parishioners at the Church preparing for the liturgy. Some were outside tending to the gardens, others were preparing the altar or Easter fire, while a large group of musicians was rehearsing the music for the liturgy.
The Easter Vigil
The Easter Vigil took place at 7.30pm and more than 300 people were in attendance.
The ceremony included the Service of Light, beginning with the lighting of the Easter fire outside the church, where the paschal candle is lit and blessed. This is followed by a procession into the church by candlelight, before we light one another’s candles.
We entered the church and listened to the Exsultet, the hymn of praise before the paschal candle. Rhonda, who is part of the music group at Wodonga, has travelled 80 kilometres back to Wodonga from an Easter camping trip, to lead us prayerfully in song in one of the most moving moments of the Easter Vigil.
The Easter Vigil continued with the Liturgy of the Word where we celebrated God’s great love for us. Fr Junjun Amaya powerfully illustrated this in his homily.
“In the readings we have heard from Genesis, we have this God who is our Creator who breathes onto all of us the gift of life,” Fr Junjun says.
“In Exodus, he is the God who sets us free from the slavery of Egypt.
“In Isaiah, he is the Lord who calls us and takes us back with great love and quenches all our thirst and satisfies our hunger.
“In Ezekiel, he is our God who gives us a new heart and places a new Spirit within us.
“In the letter of St Paul to the Romans, He is our God who destroyed all power of sin and freed us from all slavery to sin.”
Fr Junjun enthusiastically explained that Easter is a time to celebrate how much God loves us and to share this joy with others.
“In our Gospel, we have heard the Good News of all, the greatest story ever told!” Fr Junjun says.
“That Jesus Christ, who suffered, died and was buried, is now risen from the dead.
“That is our God… and that’s how much he loved us.
“As Christians, we are Easter people. We are called to be people of hope, sharing the joy of Christ’s message to others.”
That night as we left Sacred Heart Church at about 10pm, I offered to drive past KFC on my way back to the presbytery. Fr Junjun loves KFC and supports the idea. After all, Fr Junjun had given up KFC for Lent, and so was eager to end his Lenten Fast now that Easter had arrived.
I stopped at Fr Junjun’s favourite take-away store firstly in Wodonga, and then in Albury, only to discover that they have both closed.
I returned to the presbytery about 30 minutes later to tease Fr Junjun and inform him that his “KFC Fast” would need to continue one more day!
Easter Sunday
A large music group was at Sacred Heart Church, Wodonga, well before 8am, preparing for the first Sunday Mass of Easter.
The group was made up of lots of young professionals, including mums and dads. There was an organist, a pianist, a guitarist, a flute player, someone on the recorder and some singers. The parish was alive! It was a welcoming atmosphere within the church as people arrived for 8.30am Mass to hear hymns being played before Mass.
About 450 people were present for the 8.30am and there was a great sense of joy within the congregation as we celebrated the resurrection.
Numbers were again strong for the 10.30am Mass with about 350 people in attendance.
A baptism at St Augustine’s Church at 1pm concluded the Easter Sunday celebrations, before Fr Junjun and I stopped for lunch, the much anticipated feed of Kentucky Fried Chicken! Yes, KFC was open this time!
A Final Word
My time in Wodonga for my parish pastoral placement over Easter was a wonderful blessing.
Not only is Wodonga our biggest parish, but it has also become evident to me over these days that Wodonga is one of the best parishes in our Diocese. The Easter Edition of the 2018 Parish Talk magazine demonstrates this. The parish directory, for instance, includes the names of close to 50 individuals, who lead different parish groups. These include liturgy or altar groups; parish pastoral council, finance and church committees. There is also youth ministry and prayer groups, as well as justice and evangelisation teams.
This is a testament to the dedicated parishioners of this wonderful parish and the exceptional leadership which the parish continues to have under the leadership of Parish Priest, Fr Junjun Amaya, and his assistant Fr Junray Rayna. Recent years has also seen the parish led by the likes of Fr Rom Hayes, Fr Joe Taylor, Monsignor Frank Marriott and Fr Dennis Crameri. It is an impressive group of pastors!
May God continue to bless the wonderful ministry by the priests and lay people in the parish of Wodonga.

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