Sydney, Australia, Jul 23, 2014 / 12:03 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the crash of flight MH17 over Ukraine, Australians have been mourning the loss of the 298 persons aboard the flight, particularly their 27 nationals, one of whom was a religious sister.
Sister Philomene Tiernan was an Australian member of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and a teacher and boarding director at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart, a girls’ boarding school located in a Sydney suburb.
“We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise, and compassionate woman, who was greatly loved by us all,” Hilary Johnston-Croke, principal of Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart, told CNA July 23.
She “contributed greatly to our community and she touched the lives of all of us in a very positive and meaningful way,” Johnston-Croke recounted.
Sr. Philomene, who died at the age of 77, had provided pastoral care to students both on campus and outside the school.
“We will continue to honor her wonderful legacy of love and care, of deeply influencing and touching so many of our lives and the lives of many over her long years of service,” Johnston-Croke said. “She truly lived the Cor Unum spirit.”
Kincoppal-Rose Bay, which also has a co-ed primary school, has opened counseling to its students, who have been deeply affected by this tragic loss of Sr. Philomene and the other passengers on the flight.
“Sr. Tiernan was a great soul, a supportive spiritual guide, and a friend to the students who especially felt lonely being away from home, coming from Asia-Pacific, Europe and America,” Rebecca Curran, communications manager at Kincoppal-Rose Bay, remarked to CNA.
Sr. Philomene was returning to Australia after attending a conference in Britain, a theology course in Ireland, and a retreat in France.
While in France, she had been able to visit the tomb of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of her order, at St. Francis Xavier parish in Paris.
Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and former Archbishop of Sydney, has written that “I certainly wish to pass on my thoughts and prayers and condolences to all the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, to the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School, and all the friends of Sr. Phil Tiernan tragically killed in the recent Malaysia Airlines disaster.”
“Sr. Phil will be remembered as a bright spirit and great inspiration to many not only in her school community but also throughout the Sydney Archdiocese. She will be greatly missed.”
“May the good Lord comfort truly all those who mourn this wonderful woman so dedicated in His service,” the cardinal concluded. “May she rest in peace.”
Bishop Peter Comensoli, apostolic administrator of the Sydney archdiocese, said Mass July 20 in remembrance of the MH17 victims, and as a call for peace in Ukraine.
The Mass was attended by relatives and friends of the victims, as well as prime minister Tony Abbott, opposition leader Bill Shorten, and governor-general Peter Cosgrove.
Bishop Comensoli’s homily reflected on the Gospel of Matthew’s parable of the sower: “while everyone was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off.”
“The downing of MH17 was not an innocent accident; it was the outcome of a trail of human evil,” Bishop Comensoli preached.
He said that “in the targeting and destruction of flight MH17, and the loss of 298 innocent lives, the shocking effects of our fallen humanity have once again confronted the world.”
“It is a harrowing image to see fields of crops in Eastern Ukraine strewn with human remains and wreckage, and to think of fields of wheat strewn with darnel.”
Bishop Comensoli added that “the subversion of truth is also happening in other places in the world, wherever human dignity lies blanketed under violent hatreds, ancient and new.“
“Evil will try to hide, obfuscate, deny,” he reflected. “But by the light of day the true picture will be seen. And it is under the light of the Resurrected Day, that the Risen Lord calls all of us to walk.”
Bishop Comensoli urged that all “pray for the conversion of heart of the perpetrators of this terrible evil, that they and all who are tempted to hide under the darkness of human corruption, will now walk on a path that upholds the dignity of every person.”
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down July 17 over Ukraine near the Russian-Ukrainian border. An estimated 100 victims were HIV/AIDS delegates on their way to a conference in Melbourne.
The plane was flying over Ukraine’s Donetsk region when it was shot down, and crashed. The region is home to the pro-Russian separatist organization the Donetsk People’s Republic, which is rebelling against the Ukrainian government and army in the wake of earlier unrest in the region.
Fighting continues between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists; two aircraft were downed July 23 within 20 miles of the MH17 crash, according to officials in Kyiv.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine since April is believed to have led to more than 1,000 deaths.