With just five loaves and two fish – and Jesus – we can ….

“The world will not be finally beautiful, nor healthy, till it finds God.” So wrote Fr Bob Wilkinson in his book New Visions of Priesting (ATF Press, 2022). One has only to consider for a moment the state of our world at present to recognise the absence of beauty and health across the globe: the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine; the support the Australian government gives to overseas powers to destroy communities and kill innocent people; the impact of the pandemic globally; and the effects of global warming. While technology makes rapid advances to counter the evil present in the world, there is a lack of solidarity between nations to restore order, rebuild communities, render loving assistance to the poor and usher in lasting peace. 

In Rome, in October, 1951, Fr Joseph Cardijn gave the keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate. He began his address with an analysis of the technological progress of society and he drew attention to the inequality of the distribution and effects of technological progress. He also spoke of the “the impassable distances between the classes of a population itself, between the small minority of the privileged, and the immense mass of the extremely poor who continue to live in subhuman conditions.” More than seventy years later, nothing seems to have changed. 

The world was created by God for all people to share equally not only in the present but also in the future. From the first moment of creation God has been present loving, blessing, forgiving and transforming those who seek and find God in their world. We can learn from Jesus how God intends us to respond to the mission he gave to all people to look after all of creation. When his disciples had returned from their mission to preach and to heal, he took them away to a quiet place (Mark 6:30-44). Their rest was disrupted by the presence of thousands of people seeking Jesus. To him they were like sheep without a shepherd, so he gave himself entirely to meeting their needs. His disciples soon learned that without him leading them, they could achieve very little. He brought order to the chaos before him and demonstrated how to look after those in need. Today, there are millions of people who follow his method and draw on his power … but without any faith in him, without belief in God. God’s commitment to creation extends beyond the Church. 

We know what has to change. Pope Francis has said that we need a Church filled with people smelling like sheep (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Let’s extend that to the whole world smelling like sheep. What are some actions that can be taken to contribute to the efforts of the many who are working to bring about justice and peace in the world? Cardijn was particularly thorough at gathering the data he needed to understand the situations in which many young workers found themselves. I once read that to know something one must be able to tell others about it in all sorts of ways, like navigating your way around and through it blindfolded. This is a good place to start. 

Our federal government contributes to the atrocities committed in Myanmar by the military junta. I say this with some knowledge of how the Australian taxpayer supports the military regime and its criminal activity, however, I have to be completely on top of this issue so that any action I take and that I encourage others to take will be loving and just and be focused on empowering the people of Myanmar to restore order and peace in their country. And the action I take must be carried out like Jesus, who took the five loaves and two fish and offered them to God in thanksgiving before giving them to his disciples to distribute to the gathering.

What is there in our world that you would like to change? And what action will you take to bring about change to help people find God and help to restore beauty and health to God’s creation?


Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, The world today and the lay apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves und the Fishes at Tabgha near the Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret), Israel. According to the pious legend, in this place Jesus fed 5000 pilgrims with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14,13).

Photo taken by Grauesel / Wikipedia

Saving the Planet


Our home is in trouble. Extreme weather events wreak havoc in communities around the globe. Habitats are destroyed and many species face extinction. Even human civilisation is threatened. The rapid advances made in technology in the modern era are accompanied by human ignorance and greed. Early in his papacy, Pope Francis warned the world about failing to take care of our planet. He called for the ecological conversion of communities around the world so that all people work together to care for our common home. 

Nearly sixty years before he published Laudato Si’ in 2015, Fr Joseph Cardijn addressed the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, which had gathered in Rome, in October 1951. He spoke about the advances in technology as transformations of society and he said that ‘it is for lay people to surmount the dangers which they bring.’ We currently experience on so many fronts the dangers to which he referred and they are more than he was aware of when he delivered his keynote address. 

Like so many other lay people in our common home, I learn about our planet in a piecemeal fashion. Most of my knowledge is reactionary, and I often feel out of control of the learning process as I bounce from one concept or occurrence to another. To seek ecological conversion, I must become intentional in learning about this home we share and how to work with others for the good of our common home.


I am a Catholic and an active member of my parish. And while I have started making an effort to be responsible for the country where I live, I am troubled by my lack of effort to engage with those I worship with every Sunday on the call to collective action to save our planet. The Gospel reading for the Mass for January 6 (Mark 1:6-11) is about Jesus being affirmed and confirmed in his mission on the occasion of his baptism by John in the Jordan River. When a person is baptised with the Holy Spirit (the sacrament of Baptism), they are commissioned to work for the good of all. They receive the grace they need to respond to the promptings of the Spirit.

Pope Francis describes people as “protectors of God’s handiwork.” In an ideal world, the lay people of a parish would see as part of their mission to work together to address the issue of climate change and its impact on the community and on the world. Their actions would signal their ecological conversion. The parish priest would encourage them and lead them in prayer and worship, as well as participating in practical ways, such as learning with his parishioners how to live responsibly with climate change.


For the ideal to become the reality, the parish I belong to will have to start talking about the impact of climate change on our lives and on the world and how to respond to the call for the ecological conversion of our parish community. Up to this point in time, no one has raised the issue so that it is communicated when people gather for Mass. The silence on this issue is disturbing.

So I will commit myself to bringing about this change. I will approach our parish pastoral council and ask for the opportunity to address them about Pope Francis’ call to us to be “protectors of God’s handiwork.” Fortunately, the Church leads the way in creating experiences for ecological conversion through the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which was established by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. We are not alone.

About Pat Branson

I am an Aussie Catholic, married and living in Western Australia in the presence of God. I have been involved in Catholic education for most of my life, teaching and leading in the field of religious education. I quit the classroom at the end of 2020 and am now engaged in research and writing, something that I started in my postgraduate studies. For almost two-thirds of my life, I have been influenced by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn through the movements he founded, particularly the YCS. I hope this reflection bears testimony to the good work done forming me by Jocists young and old.


Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (Vatican.va)

Daily Mass Readings, 6 January 2023 (USCCB)