Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fisher of Men – In Sydney, This Is The Day The George Has Made

It's been said here before, but bears repeating – this week sees the arrivals of the twin appointees likely to be Francis' most significant English-speaking picks in the course of his entire pontificate... and fittingly, the festival began with quite a splash.

In spectacular fashion, yesterday in Sydney saw the homecoming of the city's Ninth Archbishop. And given all the expectation that's surrounded Anthony Fisher for a decade, that the promise would pay off at the tender age of 54 only added to the palpable sense of history in St Mary's Cathedral, as a phalanx of Australia's leaders joined Fisher's parents and a teeming standing-room crowd to witness the beginning of a tenure that could extend to the year 2040. Indeed, that the cathedra of Oz's preeminent post is a replica of King Edward's Chair – the coronation seat of the British monarchs in Westminster Abbey – merely added to the perception of triumph.

After prayers (right) at the tomb of St Mary MacKillop – the foundress who, in 2010, became the first Australian to be canonized – the Dominican friar-cum-Oxford bioethicist was swept by car to the country's most prominent house of worship, where he was greeted on the front steps by a delegation led by Aboriginal representatives. (Unlike installations in the US, Canada and Britain, the Mass notably began at 7pm local time for the convenience of the faithful who wanted to come.) Much like Fisher's combination of sweeping intellect and boyish charm, meanwhile, the liturgy that followed had something for everybody, as fanfares and chant were mixed with guitar-driven praise and worship music.

Despite a decade-long rise through the hierarchy as his predecessor's star protege, Fisher has conspicuously sought to distance himself from Cardinal George Pell over the rollout for his arrival, and the Vatican's new, all-powerful Finance Czar was just as strikingly absent from the event. Still, beyond the choice himself, the long arm of Francis was reinforced in the room by the front-and-center presence of Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the beloved British-born Nuncio now preparing to depart for Rome as the Pope's newly-chosen "foreign minister," again becoming the first native English-speaker ever to hold the critical post.

Over recent days, it's been extraordinary to hear the level of enthusiasm and support with which a normally cynical and raucously irreverent Aussie crowd has showered Fisher (shown above with his mother) over the course of the transition – and to be sure, maybe even more of the same surrounds Blase Cupich as he arrives in Chicago today to complete his journey to the chair of Mundelein, Bernardin and George. Keeping to Sydney, though, the state of its local church has been put in glaring, even visceral terms – to use one well-placed perception, the 700,000-member archdiocese "is a basketcase, and [its] priests are the walking wounded" – all the more as an ongoing Federal inquiry into institutional sex-abuse has put the church's historic response to cases under a high-profile microscope across Australia.

On practically every front, the scene set a high bar for an inaugural message, but the Oz crowd has routinely cited Fisher as one of the finest preachers they've got... and in the potent homily he turned out, it showed – video and fulltext are below, and the complete Mass is streaming on-demand via the Catholic social media portal Xt3.

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12 NOVEMBER 2014

Your Excellency Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States; Your Grace Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference; brother bishops, priests and deacons; fellow religious;

Your Excellencies and Reverends, the representatives of other churches and major faiths;

Your Excellency, General David Hurley, Governor of New South Wales; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott; Former Prime Minister John Howard; Senator Jacinta Collins representing the Federal Opposition; Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Mike Baird, with several Cabinet Ministers; Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley, representing the State Opposition; Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore;

Other political, judicial, professional and education leaders; brothers and sisters in Christ:


When Father John Joseph Therry named the first Catholic chapel of the colony of New South Wales "St. Mary, Help of Christians," he chose a title that marks the intersection and sometimes collision of three great ideas that shape the human soul in our age: Christianity, Islam and secularism.

In the sixteenth century, amid serious tension between Christianity and Islam (in the form of the Holy League and the Ottoman empire), Pope St. Pius V called on Europe to pray the Rosary for peace and security. In the nineteenth century, when secularism (in the form of the French Revolution and Napoleon) also sought to smother the Church, Pope Pius VII called for the same. Two centuries ago this very year, he was liberated and the Church again survived against the odds. The next year he introduced the commemoration of "Help of Christians" to the calendar, and adding one more to that long line of Marian titles that began in tonight's Gospel with Elizabeth calling Mary "Mother of my Lord" and "Most Blessed of all women" (Luke 1:39-56).

Much might be said about these three cousins - Christianity, Islam and secularism, their family resemblances, differences and tensions. Extremist strains of each have sometimes threatened the security of the others; at other times they've coexisted peaceably and collaborated in various ways.

As a Catholic bishop I profess faith in the person of Jesus Christ. His Gospel is heir to much of Judaism and became the basis of a new Western civilization and a great missionary endeavour to bring faith and worship, education and healthcare, welfare and pastoral care, to the ends of the earth, even as far as colonial Australia. But as we heard in our first reading tonight, the Woman of the Apocalypse that is Israel, the Church, the Virgin Mother, has not always had it easy, even when bringing forth the Prince of Peace (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10).

The infant Church in Australia had a special reason to honour Mary: in the years when Catholic priests and Masses were forbidden, the laity kept the Faith alive by public recitation of the Rosary. The first Catholic church - which became the cathedral once Bishop John Bede Polding arrived in 1835 - was built with the pennies of poor Irish and British Catholics, but also the assistance of that enlightened Governor, Macquarie, and some Protestant worthies. It is an early example of respect for religious liberty, of collaboration between church and state, and of harmony between believers.

These are, I believe, among our nation's greatest strengths and the presence tonight of diverse political and religious leaders is testament to that. We must be eternally vigilant to protect these aspects of our national life. To people of other faiths or none I hold out the hand of friendship and collaboration, and to those suffering at home or abroad for their faith I commit to working for peace and harmony.


Sydney's first bishops were Benedictines; I am a Dominican. My order was founded eight centuries ago "for preaching and the salvation of souls." The early friars were rather ambivalent about their own becoming bishops. When the Dominican scientist-theologian St. Albert the Great was named Bishop of Regensburg, the Master of the Dominicans, Humbert of Romans, wrote:

"I would rather you were dead than a bishop ... Why ruin your reputation and that of the Order by letting yourself be taken away from poverty and preaching? However troublesome you find the brethren, don't imagine things will be better once you have secular clergy and powers to deal with ... Better to lie in a coffin than sit in a bishop's chair!"
Paul in our epistle anticipates and answers Humbert, reminding us that Christ graces some to be apostles or evangelists, others to be pastors or teachers - some, like himself, to be all these things - but all "speaking the truth in love" and so building up the Church (Ephesians 4:1-16).

The responsibility of the pastor is a grave one in any age, but in our time that has been aggravated by the shameful deeds of some clergy and serious failures of some leaders to respond. I have personally found it harrowing as a bishop to listen to survivors tell me their stories, to hear how abandoned they felt and how they continue to suffer.

To survivors of abuse and all affected I say: the Church is - I am - profoundly sorry for what happened. All young people must be cherished and protected. The Church can do better and I am committed to giving a lead in this area. I pray that the Church will emerge from this period of public scrutiny humbler, more compassionate and spiritually regenerated. Only then will we regain credibility and trust in many people's eyes. To those who've become disconnected from the Church in recent years because of our failures or for some other reason I say: come back home, give us another chance, and help us be a better Church. We need your insights, enthusiasm and prayers.


When the newly-pregnant Mary greeted her kinswoman, the Gospel relates that the child leapt in Elizabeth's womb. Poets have the foetal John the Baptist doing somersaults for joy at the coming of the Saviour; iconographers have him leaping into kneeling position; either way, it can't have been very comfortable for his Mum! But the scene captures the excitement we all should feel at encountering Jesus Christ. Already this unborn boy glimpsed his vocation as a finger pointing to Christ.

It took me rather longer to grasp! As a child in the Lakemba and Lane Cove parishes in Cardinal Gilroy's time, our class was given Brother Davy's The Christian Gentleman, with a preface by the Cardinal. Its advice on etiquette with Governors, Premiers and Nuncios seemed of little relevance - little did I know! Through my adolescence at Riverview and Sydney University, Cardinal Freeman was archbishop and he washed my feet one Holy Thursday night; I never dreamt I'd one day be washing the feet here - a reminder that I am "to serve, not to be served" (John 13:1-17; Matthew 20:25-28).

As a young cleric in Sydney and Melbourne in Cardinal Clancy's time, I never guessed I would one day stand on the shoulders of those great men, all the way back to Polding. I gratefully salute our recently-deceased father, Ted Clancy. I likewise acknowledge Cardinal George Pell, whose auxiliary I was for seven years and who before his appointment to Rome achieved so much in education, chaplaincies and seminaries, in centres for formation, retreat and pilgrimage, and through the Sydney World Youth Day with which I was privileged to be associated.

What a joy to return in this new way! I've lived or worked in the South-West of Sydney and the lower North Shore, the upper North, inner city and the East, and lately the West of this great city. I love its people. Pope Francis says pastors should smell of their sheep. This is not a comment upon clerical hygiene: it is an insistence that we are from and for our flocks. Pray, therefore, that I will always be a shepherd for Sydney after the heart of Jesus Christ.


Tonight I've looked back to the origins of this cathedral, diocese and national church. Looking forward, we have much to build on. Above all, we have Jesus Christ as our foundation stone and the many works inspired by His Spirit over the past two centuries.

The Church in Australia now has around 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 700,000 school desks, and assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare and St. Vincent de Paul. 5.5 million Catholics, in 1300 parishes and every walk of life, contribute in myriad ways to our nation. Peaceful democracies, affluent economies and cohesive societies don't just happen: they depend upon a complex of ideals, practices and institutions and in this country these are largely a Judeo-Christian inheritance, however under-appreciated that often is. There is much to be done to renew that social capital and I commit the Church in Sydney to that task.

What will this Archdiocese look like when, God willing, I retire in 2035? My hope is for a Church in which the Gospel is preached with joy, the wisdom of our tradition mined with fidelity, the sacraments celebrated with dignity and welcome, and the seminaries, convents and youth groups teeming with new life; a Church in which our parishes, chaplaincies and educational institutions are true centres of the new evangelisation, our laity theologically literate and spiritually well-formed, our outreach to the needy effective and growing, and God glorified above all. That will depend hugely on three factors: our clergy and religious; our families; and our young people. Let me conclude with a brief word to each.

Despite demoralising revelations from the past and exhausting demands in the present, we are still served today by many generous priests, holy religious and courageous seminarians and I greet those of the Archdiocese tonight with great optimism and fondness. It is a privilege to join you labouring in this vineyard. It is my hope that many new labourers will join us going forward. I pledge myself tonight to pray with you and for you, to listen and learn from you, to lead and support you as father as best I can, and work with you as brother in our joint mission.

Tonight I also promise to devote myself to supporting marriage and family at a time when this crucial institution is much misunderstood and under such pressure. I am the first Archbishop of Sydney lucky enough to have both parents present at his installation and I thank God for the love and support of Colin and Gloria these fifty-five years past. It was in their domestic church that first I heard the Gospel of life and love. With all my heart I thank them, my siblings and the rest of my family and friends, for loving me so well, and being willing to share me now with a new family of about 600,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese.

I also greet those lay faithful, including my collaborators in parishes, schools, universities and agencies. St. John Paul II called you to be prophets of truth, agents of a new evangelization for a new millennium. Pope Benedict XVI called you to be objects of beauty, like precious gems refracting the glory of God and drawing all eyes to Him. And now Pope Francis calls you to be exemplars of goodness, "missionary disciples" like Mary reaching out to her cousin and our suffering world, showing all "the mercy promised to our ancestors." With her namesake St. Mary MacKillop, you must make it your special care to transmit that faith and mercy to the young.

And to those young people of Sydney, I say with special affection: open your hearts to the adventure of the Gospel. In my bull of appointment you heard tonight the Holy Father refer to you as spes Ecclesiae, "the hope of the Church." I am depending on you to lend me all your energy and idealism. Never buy the lies that nothing is true, all is relative, your ideals illusory, your good works in vain. With God on your side, my young friends, who can be against you?

Tonight's celebration takes us back to the days of Therry and Polding, through subsequent generations, to that youthful Church still emerging in this third millennium of grace. As I take up this new charge, I ask you all to reflect upon your personal calling to build up the Church and community. Join me in saying a Marian YES, unconditionally, to God. With St. Mary Help of Christians let our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. For the Almighty works marvels for us: Holy is His name!