ANZAC Day – the Centenary of ANZAC


ANZAC Day is a poignant and meaningful commemoration for so many Australian, ever more so this 2015 – the Centenary of ANZAC. The reality of war with its loss of young lives and destruction, the pitch between life and death, good and evil, the consequences of moral injury for those caught up in it together with the resultant legacy of war on our nation provokes deep and often difficult questions about human existence and its purpose.

John Francis Collins of the Catholic Enquiry Centre in his article : ‘ANZAC Day: A Lost Battle, self-sacrifice and the Cross’ states that the primary carriers of the meaning of Anzac are rituals and symbols. Dawn services, flames burning unceasingly, periods of silence and remembering, medals and banners, parades, flags and bugles. He states so well that Australians are open to realities that can only be adequately communicated through ritual and symbol. Somehow these are an outlet for deep human feelings which assists in better understanding the significance of an event such as Anzac. People know what self sacrifice means in their bones!

The faces of the soldiers reveal a mix of emotions, ranging from excitement, to fear as they prepared for their imminent landing


In the Autumn edition of the magazine ‘Spirit’ distributed by Qantaslink there is a brief article entitled ‘100 years of Anzacs’. There is a most haunting photo , an image ( AO2781) from the Australian War Memorial. It depicts soldiers from the Australian 1st Divisional Signal Company being towed towards their landing on Gallipoli shores at 6.00am on 25 April 1915. The faces of the soldiers reveal a mix of emotions, everything from excitement, expectation, anxiety, apprehension to fear as they prepared for their imminent landing. For many it would be the last photo of these young men as within hours many would be dead. For many the harrowing experience of war would be transformational even within an adverse, horrifying and evil reality. We are told that this event was the anvil giving rise to a rich human reality expressed through mateship , duty , humour , raw courage and valour. God’s grace was certain active in this most distressing situation! Many soldiers grew in human stature, in basic human qualities through the immensity of their situation.


How do we interpret this reality 100 years later? What does the so called ‘spirit’ of ANZAC mean? Over the years we have heard many expressions of this ‘spirit’ summed up in sometimes extravagant statements in regards to nation building and the Australian identity. Anzac certainly exemplifies for many those positive Australian traits, such as self giving, resilience, courage, generosity, resourcefulness and determination in the face of overwhelming odds that have being demonstrated time and time again since the Anzac event through other wars, in dealing with natural disasters and in tragedies such as the massacre of Port Arthur and Bali among others.

As Catholics how do we individually and as a Church community draw meaning and find hope in catastrophic events that seem to destroy hope? How do we situate the many tragic, destructive and evil events that plague us together with the life-giving, loving and positive situations that constantly make up our world ? Even the destructive events, like ANZAC can be transformative and life giving! How does our Christian faith support us in our search for meaning and purpose in all the human realities we face?

In daily embracing the Easter event that we have just celebrated, we are challenged to interpret the realities of our everyday lives holistically through the prism of faith and respond to these challenges with hope in Christ. This coupled with the rich human experiences of our nation such as the Anzac event, through its many forms of expression, symbol and ritual can assist us enormously in personal growth and understanding. Why is it that the suffering and death of young men in a lost battle can be seen as an event that is life giving? Why is it that their lives and war service can be seen as examples of faithfulness and virtue? Why is it that the death of an unnamed soldier can be viewed as a valuable element in the strong foundation of a new nation? Just asking the questions authentically , in the searching and questioning within our own personal situation, God is certainty present , his Grace abounds and new life is the result.


ANZAC can be broadly described as sacred, even though it is a human event, as are all human events sacred. Why? Because God walks in and is a present to us through every human event within our imperfect world. The birth of Christ, His taking flesh and living amongst us is enduring and transformational . Christ lives with us and is immersed within our human condition, both good and evil.

Secondly ANZAC is sacred because human life is sacred. Each human being is precious in God’s sight. The life and fate of each soldier who died at Gallipoli mattes to God. The nobility, the courage, heroism, the selfless acts and mateship of each matters to God and indeed are graced by Him. The immense grief of loved ones for the dead matters, God grieves with them as does the communal mourning of a nation stripped of so many young lives, this matters to God . This Anzac Day citizens will march with both pride and honour. This will be seen on their faces, both young and old, gathered in unity of purpose. This matters and is sacred to God. The sacredness of each human life compelled God to send his Son so that through his Death all may have life.

Each generation will find new meaning in the celebration of Anzac day. Many in our secular world focus entirely on human values which is very good in itself. The prism of faith will hopefully allow us a far deeper and richer understanding of the human condition in the person of Jesus as we ponder the significance of this Anzac event and deal resiliently with world events. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection we have a source of hope that not only support us in those catastrophic events but can aide us greatly in the challenges of every day human existence. Ritual is sacred, for we Catholics the sacraments are the ultimate sacred ritual, the salvific events in which we find Christ. The Holy Eucharist is our daily Bread, the seedbed for regular nourishment for life’s journey, the source of life.

Air Commodore Mons Peter O’Keefe is the Director-General of the Chaplaincy Service – Air Force, Catholic Diocese of the Australian Defence Force.