Since an earlier report in 'AD2000' (December 1999), the Highway to Heaven Truck Raffle, run by the Confraternity of Christ the Priest to help finance the building of a new parish church in the Wagga Wagga Diocese, has concluded. Neville Kenyon, a parishoner from Thurgoona (a suburb of Albury), who travelled with Frs Fowles Nestor and Casanova to promote the Truck Raffle, gives us his vivid impressions of the trucking apostolate that became an integral part of the Truck Raffle itself.
For four weeks my life revolved around a truck. With Fathers Casanova, Fowles and Nestor and the big blue monster "Highway to Heaven", I travelled the truckways of Victoria and NSW. I saw places in these states I had never seen before - and never want to see again! Surely the most depressing, soul- deadening, dispiriting place is a truck stop - rows of bowsers, hectares of gritty, blistering concrete; a meal and shower area and nothing else, redeemed only by the kindness shown us by the friendly staff and managers.
I remember one day sitting outside one of these truckstops with Father Nestor. It was 40 degrees in the shade and there wasn't any. We sold one ticket. Still, at other stops we were more successful, and at every stop we handed out applications that later bore fruit.
But there were also moments of exhilaration. The Sydney Market exploding into life, with a river of utes, trucks and vans pouring in as the buyers arrived. I was in the middle of a maelstrom. Darting forklifts, buyers on BMX bikes, trucks, utes diving in and out of throughways so that just to cross from one shed to another became a journey of high adventure. Again, the last day of the raffle at the Albury Gold Cup Races, when in a frenzy of buying, five people writing tickets could not satisfy the demands.
I remember moments of beauty. Watching the trucks like a convoy of ships, each a blaze of lights steaming out of the black velvet dark of Tarcutta. Standing with Fr Fowles at first light at Marulan, after the standard all night vigil beside the truck selling tickets, (a most welcome cup of coffee in our hands), watching the dawn light sculpture trees and hills as the magpies warbled their hymns of praise to their Maker, whilst the trucks and their weary drivers slept on.
On dropping into Eugowra, Ireland-green, lush and gentle after stone-hard, parched West Wyalong. The bike and truck show, a medieval tournament of brightly multi- coloured tents and awnings. There were hundreds of bikes in a dazzle of chrome glinting in the soft autumn sunshine. And the bikies, knights in studded vests, with tattooed bare arms and bandanas, and their ladies in glistening black leather and high heeled boots.
There were times of joy, as in the knowledge of all our brothers and sisters back in Thurgoona spending long days and well into the night taking requests for tickets on the phone or manning selling points at local service stations, whilst Fr Donoghue carried all the parish responsibilities in his relaxed but efficient manner.
There was joy in the warmth and kindness of the various people who opened their homes to us. Not since National Service days have I fallen asleep so quickly or slept the allotted four hours so soundly (for we worked a four hours on, four hours off routine). Indeed, I remember all of us standing at a truck stop on the Footscray road. The priests who, as well as selling tickets, bore the brunt of all the organisational matters - the TV and radio interviews and the changes that are inevitable when you have to rely on the good will of others - stood red-eyed and exhausted at the end of another baking day. Fr Casanova glanced down and said softly, "That concrete looks inviting".
There was joy in coming to know the truck drivers. They are a hard-working bunch doing a tiring, taxing and essential job quietly and effectively. As one who finds it almost impossible to back up a 6 x 4 trailer efficiently, I never ceased to marvel at the easy grace and skill with which they maneuvered the monsters they controlled. I admired their camaradie, enjoyed their humour and supported their determination to do the best they could for their families.
Finally, there was joy in the result: two prizes - two truck drivers.
Barry Hayes is, like Dave, one of our parishioners, the epitomy of the Australian. Tall, laconic, relaxed and superb at what he does. He was in his truck on the way to Mittagong when Fr Casanova called him. "Are you sitting down?" Father asked. "Of course I'm bloody sitting down. I'm driving a bloody truck". Incredulous at first, he was overjoyed with his good fortune. So were we all. An owner/driver had won the truck. It was fitting. It was just. They, more than any other group, had supported our raffle and now one of their members had won first prize and another the second.
But the most joyful memories were those of watching the priests. Yes, they sold tickets and did it well. Who could forget Fr Casanova dangling the keys of the Kenworth under the noses of a group of men passing by. They hesitate, look at each other - and reach for their wallets. On going up to a seller at the Footscray Markets and asking him if he wanted a ticket, only to have him snap "No, I've already bought one from that other bloke. Is he really a priest? He should be a bloody salesman." Still clearly annoyed that somehow he and his money had been parted.
There were, however, more intense joyful moments, and it took a little time for me to discern these. It was as if my eyes slowly shifted focus and I saw more clearly what was really going on. For time and time again, with truck drivers, hitchhikers, snack bar workers, console operators or passing motorists, the priests from ticket sale gradually and gently led the conversation from truck to a far deeper level. From meeting to encounter.
How ironic, how strange, how wonderful: here was I, caught up in this wild ride of days and nights of selling, of heat and dust and bone weary for the sake of a church, to find my God here, in this concrete wilderness seeking out His lost sheep. For if it came to selling tickets or lavishing pastoral care - it was no contest. Time and again both Fathers spent an hour or more counselling, encouraging, teaching and often administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Yes, they were the peak moments for all of us. To see one or other of the Fathers sitting close to some chum a little distance away and finally see both rise, shake hands and see the smile on the face of the driver as he passed me into the diner. Then Father would come up and say quietly, "Yes, he went to Confession," and we were all bonded in the joy and peace of that moment. And everything made sense. This is why we were here, to get money to build a church, certainly. But the church is so that all may come to know and love and worship and serve Him who is always and everywhere searching and seeking out all whom He has created.