On the Highway to Heaven: Wagga priest's trucking apostolate

On the Highway to Heaven: Wagga priest's trucking apostolate

Fr Thomas Casanova

God commanded St Francis of Assisi, "Build My Church", and St Francis did. He began by humbly repairing a church and finished, having done remarkable work in building up the Church as a whole. To increase the number and holiness of the faithful is most important, but building a church is a unique opportunity of grace in the history of a parish. This can be true not only of the actual construction of the church, but also of the fund-raising.

On 8 December 1998, Bishop William Brennan of the Wagga Wagga Diocese formally established the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Thurgoona, and entrusted it to the pastoral care of the Confraternity of Christ the Priest. The new parish, situated on the outskirts of Albury, has a growing population of 4,000, but no church.

Truck raffle

A unique way both to raise funds and evangelise has been found - the Highway to Heaven Truck Raffle. We are raffling a Kenworth prime mover valued at $360,000, with tickets selling at $50 (other truck raffles charge $250). It is a concept successfully tried before, but never by a Church. For six months we researched the viability of the project. After the difficult task of obtaining art union licences, we began our promotions in July.

Thus far, I have driven about 28,000 km visiting truck stops, seaports and transport companies in several states. The response has been 99% positive. We were advised to hide the fact that we were running the raffle to build a Catholic church in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, lest it turn truckies away, but I am glad we did not.

Travelling visibly as priests is the only way to go; especially when there are fewer of us around. Often people, who began with a good humoured stir, have ended up asking for prayers for themselves, like one young man in a South Australian pub (I evangelise in pubs too), who said, "Father, I've never spoken to a priest before. I've done a few bad things in my time, could you say one for me?" Drivers have offered accommodation with their families and rides in their trucks. They have also offered to help promote the raffle by delivering posters and application forms around the country.

In October, I was asked to bless the trucks at the National Round of the Super Truck Racing at Winton, and then had a ride around the race track with the 1999 Australian champion, Rodney Crick. The racing drivers have got to know me fairly well this year, since I and a number of our parishioners have met them at Oran Park (Sydney), Mallala (Adelaide) and Winton (Victoria).

Before the races at Oran Park in July. we cleared out the VIP room in the tower above the track and offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, praying for all those we would meet. There have been some humorous moments.

Pauline was selling tickets when she met two spectators with Irish accents. She asked, "Have you been to Mass today?" to which they answered, "This is our mass." Pauline's response? "And this is the collection!" When people buy a ticket because they want to help us build the church, that is a very worthy thing; but even those who are just after the Kenworth T904 know they are helping to build a Catholic church in honour of Mary; they have opened their hearts a little.

I believe there is a lot of pastoral work needed for transport workers and families. About 62 percent of interstate drivers spend 20 or fewer hours at home, which is not good for marriages or the formation of children. Unreasonable schedules are a problem, as well as no minimum rates for cartage. There is a constant fear of death. "Don't get on the wall!" said one speaker to the 1500 strong audience at this year's memorial service at Tarcutta. The "wall" refers to a remembrance wall, which has hundreds of names on it, most of the deceased being only in their 20s.

Major problems

Prostitution and pornography are major problems, although drivers can make a decision to steer clear of it if they want. One day follows another and eternity can sneak up with little preparation. In their hurry to deliver, drivers can forget they are on the road to heaven or hell. (Remember your last end and you will not sin.)

In October, I was asked by the Transport Workers Union to lead a prayer service at the launch of a group called the Concerned Families of Australian Truckies (CFAT). Please pray for these people. Each week day 2834 trucks pass through Albury/ Wodonga, most of them between 10pm and 3am. Our roads are full of them at night, carrying goods for our convenience, but the cost in human terms is often too high.

If any readers would like to help make our raffle a complete success, they could first help us by praying that we will do much good for souls in the course of our promotions. Another way they could help is to find at least one person or group of people willing to buy a ticket. We can send application forms for you to pass on. Call (02) 6043 2222 or write to Highway to Heaven Truck Raffle, PO Box 110, Lavington 2641.

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