Cardinal George Pell told a group of Australian students that his Christian faith helped him persevere through his time in prison, and offered advice on how to overcome grief and stressful situations.
Pell, in one of his first public appearances since his April release from prison, spoke to an online silent retreat hosted June 5 and 6 by the Australian Catholic Students’ Association about suffering and the tools one can use to remain steadfast in faith through hard times.
The cardinal said his 13 months in prison were “difficult and unpleasant,” but not the worst possible form of suffering. He said his time in prison reinforced the truth of Christian view of redemptive suffering, according to The Catholic Weekly.
“I’m still teaching the same Christian message,” said Pell. “And I’m here simply to say that it works. Not in the sense that I was acquitted, but that this Christian teaching helped me to survive.”
Pell was convicted in 2018 of multiple counts of sexual abuse. On April 7, Australia’s High Court overturned his six-year prison sentence. The High Court ruled that he should not have been found guilty of the charges and that the prosecution had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
During the retreat, Pell gave five suggestions for anyone who is going through emotional hardship, including grief, loss, and personal suffering. The cardinal’s suggestions: exercise, avoiding large amounts of alcohol, eating healthy and regularly, sleeping a certain number of hours a night, and waking up at the same time each day.
He added that this routine, particularly ensuring regular exercise, helped him very much when he was in prison. He told the students at the retreat that it was especially important that, as young people, they take this advice sooner rather than later.
By creating these “good habits of mind and habits of practice,” a person will be led in the right direction during the inevitable intense times of suffering, he said.
“Whereas, if you’ve been sloppy and ill-disciplined and selfish all your life, it makes it so much harder to rise to the challenge,” he said.
In an Easter message published in April, Pell wrote of his incarceration that “I have just spent 13 months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit, one disappointment after another. I knew God was with me, but I didn’t know what He was up to, although I realised He has left all of us free. But with every blow it was a consolation to know I could offer it to God for some good purpose like turning the mass of suffering into spiritual energy.”
“The only Son of God did not have an easy run and suffered more than his share. Jesus redeemed us and we can redeem our suffering by joining it to His and offering it to God,” Pell added.
The cardinal’s Easter message included a proclamation of the Gospel: that Jesus of Nazareth died, and was resurrected bodily. “It was a return of his entire person from death, breaking the rules of health and physics, as Christians believe this young man was the only Son of God, divine, the Messiah…who redeems us, enables us to receive forgiveness and enter into a happy eternity.”
On April 7, the day he was released from prison, the cardinal told CNA that “prayer has been the great source of strength to me throughout these times, including the prayers of others, and I am incredibly grateful to all those people who have prayed for me and helped me during this really challenging time.”