September 06, 2020

Bread and Roses

Celebrating the fruits of the Rock Mass 48 years on.

On the 26th July, 2020 [in Adelaide], we celebrated the 48th 'birthday' of the “Rock Mass”, now known as the Romero Community Mass, after El Salvador’s Saint Oscar Romero. It was a wonderful celebration, in spite of Covid regulations. Monsignor Robert Aitken, now 91, was the celebrant as he had been at that first celebration in 1972, and Sr. Janet Mead was still adding her voice to the songs, prepared and mostly written by members of the Romero Community. The music set a joyful, upbeat tone and drew us again into a community, passionate for justice, caring of the vulnerable, aching for a better world. The altarpiece, painted by Julie, depicting the shell and pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela, symbol of our pilgrimage through life, was a beautiful focal point.

The congregation, made up of over 1000 mostly younger people in 1972, has become smaller, older, but no less passionate. All the elements that contributed to the celebration then, are present now - (except perhaps the dancing!) - the greeting and welcoming of each other, the music, singing, flowers, artwork, the prayers, the commentaries, reflection pieces, the breaking of the bread and of the Word, the peace shared. (within Covid restrictions of course!). Like the early church, the celebrations in 1972 and now, were not focussed inwards but on strengthening us to go out and work for the coming of God peace here on earth.

Everyone present knew the importance of this celebration in sustaining the many projects that have grown from this community. Both local and overseas projects have been born from an awareness of needs, and have been supported both financially and by actual involvement. The idea of the Rock Mass was never just about encouraging young people to worship God with music they could relate to. Janet's vision was to touch the hearts of the young with the message of the gospel, and to call them to build a better world.

Monsignor Aitken, Janet Mead rsm

Bread and Roses’ is a song that is sometimes sung at the Romero Community Mass. The poem/song became a rallying cry of women factory workers in the early 20th century. “Hearts starve as well as bodies: Give us Bread, but give us Roses.” I see this balance in the work of the Romero Community who, with Janet's full support and involvement, keep alive her vision. I see it in the musicals they produce each year to raise money for overseas projects, and that give such entertainment and enjoyment (and some awareness raising) to the audiences. It is in the colourful gardens they create, along with growing produce for food parcels given to those who come to the Centre. It is in the beautiful ways they care for those who come to the Centre, and celebrate their lives. It is in the fun they have making up songs for special occasions. It is the love they have for our nations First People’s and the way we are called to acknowledge our presence on their land before every Mass, in the language of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains.

And in the music - always at the heart of everything, The prodigious talent of the Romero community enables this special gift. 

'A community is never for itself. It belongs to all humanity, especially to the poor. The hopes, dreams and sorrows,  struggles and works of a community, find their natural expression in music which is beyond mere words.
Whenever we sing, we celebrate the triumph of resistance over injustice, hope over despair. We sing, not only to change the evils of the world but so they won't change us.' —Janet Mead rsm, 2017

The 48th Anniversary of the Romero Community Mass was another chance to ‘feed our hearts’. There is so much to celebrate and give thanks for.

As Greg put it:

'So many people involved, so many lives touched, so much achieved. . .

So many good people teaching us so much about the world, about life, about injustice and need:

The Rock Mass is a weekly focus for our lives, a gathering, not just a social event but a gathering in the name of One who preached the message of justice and love.'

Joyce explains the developments growing out of the Rock Mass:

'Attendance by people from other cultures influenced the Mass: Jan Gallagher from Ecuador, Dom Helder Camara from Brazil, and others opened our eyes to people's struggles for justice and dignity around the world. Support for Rosemary Taylor's work in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia led us to think, pray and support suffering people everywhere.

Refugees and visitors came and taught us about situations of oppression in Central America, East Timor, Northern Ireland, Bougainville, Tibet, Africa, Burma and the Middle East. Annual musicals started in 1982. The Adelaide Day Centre for Homeless Persons began in 1985, and from that the Soup Van, food parcels and the Garden.' 

And the last word from Helen:

'At the Centre and the Brian Burdekin Clinic, refugees are housed, given medical treatment and welcomed; political decisions are challenged, the truth is published in 'Adelaide Voices'; voices are lifted in protest, in song, in laughter, in anguish as a mighty effort is made to create places of respect, beauty and love.

Although the regular Rock Mass congregation is small, every single person is committed to practical works of mercy as part of their prayer. They are a little band of warriors who seek nourishment each week and then go out to be involved in the struggle to overcome slavery in all its forms and to keep a flame of humanity alight in the storm.'              

And no, at the anniversary Mass we did not sing the world famous version of the 'Our Father', the chart topping song that earned Sr. Janet Mead the name 'The Singing Nun' (video above, download album here). There are so many other songs to choose from now that also get our hearts pumping and our feet tapping!!!

(Julie, Greg, Joyce and Helen are all members of the Romero Community.)

Messages to: Mary-Anne Duigan rsm

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