Rev. Mario Schoenmaker, from Holland, emigrated to Australia, where after years of practical service, theological training and ministry work he established the first esoteric Christian centre in the Southern hemisphere. The Centre's orientation included an extensive educational ministry, which presented courses on many subjects from Bible metaphysics and interpretation to comparative religion and esoteric studies. In 1975 the Independent Church of Australia was founded in Perth, which now attracts hundreds of people to its open, all-encompassing approach to Christianity. Affiliated Centres have been established throughout Australia and the world. Following his death last year, Reverend Antoinette Schoenmaker has succeeded to the role of her father and spiritual mentor in leading the ICA, and was invited to Rikhia during Sita Kalyanam to conduct a Cosmic Mass on behalf of Mario and the church. The following are extracts from her report to co-workers and friends.
The amazing journey we have been on has been an experience we shall never forget, that we shall cherish, that has affected us on many levels, that has taught us a great deal and which has been worthwhile from many different viewpoints. All of us were satisfied, delighted and moved by what transpired.
Swami Sivamurti from Greece organized for us to be invited. Originally she had wanted Mario and her guru to meet and the idea of celebrating the Cosmic Mass was her way to get the two of them together. When Mario died, she was sad, disappointed but determined to continue with her plan, which had at its heart the uniting of the spiritual traditions. So she quietly invited me and quietly, all year, encouraged me to make the decision to accept. I didn't want to go. No third world countries for me! And yet I felt that I must and should go. Finally that feeling won through and I made the decision to go (greatly encouraged by Louise and Sheila who offered to come with me). Looking back, I can see how easy it would have been to miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
The highlight of the trip was the first time we walked into the spiritual gathering at the Akhara of Paramahamsa Satyananda. He is an exceptional man: beautiful, wise, cutting, compassionate, truthful, a mystic. Being with him was exactly like being with Mario. Many times we felt tears of recognition rising within us as he would say something that Mario had said or would have said. It showed me that Christ is at work all over the world, that our Brotherhood is at work all over the world using different languages and different words, but the same spirit.
Paramahamsaji extended a very warm welcome to us. On Thursday morning we were driven from the accommodation which he had arranged for us to the Akhara. We had expected to sit down at the back and use the next two days to get our bearings and prepare for the Mass. Not to be! We were met at the gates and ushered straight through to the front of approximately 500 people who had gathered for the English satsang. Paramahamsaji shook our hands and introduced himself and his successor, Swami Niranjan, and gave us seats in chairs by his side. These were to be our places for the remainder of the week.
This welcome was very moving. He did not know me, or anything about our Centre or our Mass, yet his trust in us was complete. He honoured us in many ways speaking with us often, sitting us next to him when long time devotees may never even have had the chance to look into his eyes. It was an incredible experience and as I walked through the crowds on that first morning I felt tears of joy welling up within me.
When he asked me to then address the people, the only thing that came to me was not words, but a song. I sang, Oh love that knoweth of no fear, Oh love that sheds a joyous tear, because that was how I felt. This obviously touched many people and forged a link between us immediately. Paramahamsaji later said to me, Tears come when the soul cannot contain itself.
Prior to the Mass we had several late nights, ironing vestments and planning the program. When the day arrived we were very nervous, worried, tired. We needn't have worried of course as Paramahamsaji put the time forward to 2.30 p.m. We spent the latter part of the morning setting up the altar. It looked beautiful. Special altar cloths had been purchased and made, four brass vases (which were subsequently given to us as a gift). We had brought seven brass candlesticks, Mario's chalice, and a brass ciborium. A gorgeous Yugoslavian girl did the flowers for us. The cassettes we had brought, including the choir's 'God is Real' and a special tape of Centre choruses recorded two days before we left, sounded great through their audio equipment. Sheila did her best to get the multinational 'orchestra' familiar with the order of service.
Paramahamsaji had said that he wanted the Mass to be perfect. So at 2.30 I warmed the crowd up by explaining what it was about. One young Indian man had asked me, Mass? What is this mass thing? Is it a prayer? I explained that it had many elements and was a very sophisticated and highly developed way of getting in contact with the Gods. There was prayer, meditation, teaching, a spiritual idea to focus on; there was the altar, that magical threshold between worlds, that was also the representative of ourselves, and there was the ritual of sacrifice in which ordinary elements were changed into extraordinary powers.
We practised some of the responses and songs. Finally I softened up everyone by teaching them some choruses. Our choruses never fail! They learned Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah, Praise ye the Lord!. Please imagine 3000 people jumping up when it was their turn to sing and hurriedly sitting down when it wasn't. They thought it was hilarious and even those who were worried about female priests and blasphemy loosened up. They also learned It's Love that Makes the World go Round and really enjoyed pointing at Paramahamsaji when it came to the verse It's you that makes the love go around.
We celebrated the Mass in gowns and chasubles and dalmatics made especially for the occasion. We had given great thought to what we would wear on our feet, but it turned out to be unnecessary because everyone was expected to take their shoes off in the Akhara (holy ground). So I celebrated my first barefoot mass.
I had asked the Paramahamsa if he would like to assist me with communion. He took it one step further and said he would be delighted to co-celebrate the Mass with me! He had a special outfit made and looked a lot like a Greek orthodox priest. We didn't have time for a run through, so we winged it quite well really. I began with the usual invocation and then asked him to say the Universal Prayer written by his master, Swami Sivananda, which was a great moment, as it was obviously so familiar and dear to him and the people present.
The address focused on the links between Paramahamsaji and Mario and the swamis and our own priests. I realized, the more I got to know about the swamis and how they were trained (traditionally twelve years at the feet of the guru) and also the work of their particular order (preserving the ancient knowledge and lifting up the people around them) that we were dealing with an original branch of the Melchizedek Order. After Atlantis went down, the Melchizedek Brotherhood was sent to India and their commission was to preserve the teachings and to raise the consciousness of the inhabitants. This work continues to this day.
After the address we played His Eye is on the Sparrow sung by Mario. Many people were moved to tears at hearing his voice. I was surprised at this. We love that song because of its association but these people just loved the song and his voice without any prior association. It was quite extraordinary.
I conducted the Mass simply, giving explanations in metaphysical terms (the inner sacrifice), I consecrated the bread and Paramahamsaji consecrated the wine displaying Mario's chalice to the crowd with great pride. When I invited people forward for communion, there was almost a stampede. They didn't wait for any instructions, just leapt forward. I think for many it was the first opportunity they had to be close to the Paramahamsa and that was their chief motivation. For others though, it was a homecoming. They hadn't received communion in a long time and it was a great privilege to give these people communion. Several hundred received communion before Swami Niranjan put a stop to the flow of people as our time was up. I felt something had begun and was by no means over.
In the days that followed many people let their appreciation for our coming be known to us. Many told me that they had been looking for Christ and hadn't found him in the churches. They had found him in the yoga taught by Paramahamsaji and they saw being a swami as their priesthood. Others were looking for a blend of yogic ritual (spiritual knowledge) and Christ. They were looking for rituals that were powerful but which also spoke to their intelligence and their heart. Their responses were heartfelt and genuine.
Our connection with swamis and yoga devotees who are based all over the world, (Italy, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, England, America, Australia and India in particular) is now very strong and will grow. I left feeling that we have a lot of work to do in making our movement, philosophy and rituals known to the world. I came home knowing how important our Centre is, for we literally have been given the task of keeping the real knowledge and love of Christ alive in people's hearts.
With love and blessings to you all.