School head to lead MacKillop pilgrimage

A pilgrimage to Italy this year has paid off for Catholic school principal Joe Caruana, who has been asked to lead a group of Australians to Rome for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop this month.

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Australia’s first saint will be created on October 17 when Pope Benedict XVI canonises MacKillop at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Mr Caruana said he had gone on a pilgrimage earlier this year and that with his newfound knowledge, Harvest travel agency approached him look after a flock of pilgrims who are heading to Rome.

“Harvest has been inundated with bookings to the Mary MacKillop canonisation and they were looking for people to lead groups,” Mr Caruana told AAP.

“The first time was so spiritually enlightening, and I got to have first-hand experience of things that I’d heard about or read about.”

Mr Caruana, one of eight children of a family that migrated to Australia from Malta almost 50 years ago, said he developed a special affinity with Mary.

“Mary MacKillop looked after those who were less fortunate and those needed help and support and that’s been my credo throughout my personal and professional life,” Mr Caruana said.

“People looked after us in our time of need and I, and the rest of my family, have returned the favour to Australia.”

Mr Caruana, principal at the Holy Cross School, New Gisborne, northwest of Melbourne, will lead 49 other Australians during the pilgrimage, which will also visit religious sites in cities such as Venice, Florence and Sienna.

He believes up to 7000 Australians will be among the crowd in St Peter’s Square when the Pope canonises MacKillop and five others.

“To be there for the canonisation of Australia’s first saint will be tremendous – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so blessed and so thrilled that I have the opportunity to go,” he said.