Bishop Anthony Fisher’s Homily for the 25th Anniversary Mass of the establishment of the Diocese of Parramatta
|‘Happy eyes, happy ears, saints of Parramatta, 25 years old and young, always be thankful!’ Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu.|
It is with great joy that I welcome you all tonight to this celebration of the Silver Anniversary of the Diocese of Parramatta. It was on this day, 25 years ago, that Bishop Bede Heather took possession of the Diocese and I welcome him back warmly tonight.
I also welcome his successor Bishop Kevin Manning: though in supposed retirement he now administers the See of Wilcannia-Forbes where he has a 9½ hour drive from his cathedral to his presbytery. That certainly gives some perspective on the distances we have to go from Warragamba to Kenthurst and Mt Victoria to Harris Park!
We are also very pleased to have with us tonight His Eminence, Cardinal Cassidy, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as Bishops Julian Porteous and Terry Brady of our mother archdiocese of Sydney, and Bishop Peter Ingham of our neighbouring diocese of Wollongong.
Bishop David Walker is ordinary of our ecclesiastical twin, the Diocese of Broken Bay: while there is some doubt about which twin is the elder, we’ll each have our own views as to which of the 25-year-olds is the more beautiful or intelligent!
I acknowledge with gratitude the presence tonight of many religious and civic leaders, including the Lord Mayor of Parramatta, John Chedid, the state Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee, the Vicars-General Monsignor McGuckin and Fr Williams, the Dean of the Cathedral Fr Hoekstra, the Episcopal Vicars, deans, parish priests, clergy and laity of the Diocese. Also with us are Provincials of several religious congregations and representatives of those orders.
Also with us are many current and past heads of agencies or staff of the Chancery, members of diocesan committees, representatives of our schools and parishes, including this Parish of St Patrick: you are all most welcome.
We welcome in a special way the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Guiseppe Lazzarotto, with Fr Frank Leo. His Excellency’s presence emphasises that our 25-year-old Diocese is in communion with the See of Peter and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and through that link in communion with 1.2 billion Catholics in thousands of dioceses throughout the world.
Bishop Anthony’s Homily
For what we have received
When Governor Philip established Parramatta he intended it to rival, if not outstrip, the coastal settlement. Here, thankfully, was fertile land, fresh water and room aplenty for a better-planned settlement than the chaos already developing in Sydneytown.
Many of the first ‘Westies’ were Catholics. Already in Philip’s time they were petitioning for a priest and catechetical materials so they could pass on the faith of their Fathers. By proclamation given in Parramatta in 1803, Governor King briefly permitted Mass to be offered here. But a rebellion by the Irish soon after convinced him that Mass did the convicts no good. Only later was it permitted as a regular feature of Western Sydney life.
In due course, pastoral care was extended far and wide by the wonderful priests of Western Sydney. By the end of the 19th Century parishes had been established in Parramatta, Windsor, Penrith, Richmond, Granville, Rydalmere, Katoomba and North Parramatta. In the 20th Century many more were added in our region, including six new parishes in 1970 alone. Meanwhile, a network of convents, schools, hospitals and other ministries ensured the care of bodies and the cure of souls.
Well over 50 religious congregations have laboured here, including Mercies, Marists and more. St Mary MacKillop personally established schools at Penrith and St Marys, and her Josephite daughters built and staffed many more.
Pope Benedict – who visited our Diocese in 2008 – praised Mary’s “perseverance in the face of adversity, her plea for justice on behalf of those unfairly treated and her practical example of holiness”.
Generations of us have reason to be grateful to her and her daughters, as do other religious, “for the network of schools that they established here and for the witness of their consecrated life.”
Amidst the Australian tendencies to secularism, pragmatism and indifferentism, “the Catholic community continues to make an important contribution to national life, not only through education, healthcare [and welfare], but especially by highlighting the spiritual dimension of the questions that feature prominently in contemporary debates.”
For what we have received and are about to receive
“Always be thankful,” says St Paul tonight. “Sing to God with thankful hearts … Give thanks to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Col 3:12-17) Tonight we especially recall the decision to make Parramatta a diocese in its own right in 1986. “The bishop shall locate his See in Parramatta, the principal city of the region,” directed Pope John Paul II, “and there he will place his Chair, in the Church of St Patrick, to which we grant the honours of a Cathedral”.
Bishop Bede Heather was appointed and, as the priests here know, finding a permanent chair proved more difficult than it might sound. But whichever chair it was, Bishop Bede sat lightly in it as a man for the people of Western Sydney. In addition to a bishop we soon we had an Act of Parliament, Vicar-General, Financial Administrator, Chancery, Education Office and the rest.
Pope John Paul II decided to check up on our progress personally only a few months later. He journeyed 50,000km through Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand and the wilder parts of Australia to get to Parramatta.
He danced with Sydney youngsters; answered questions from Melbourne tiny tots; encouraged central Australian Aborigines; and cuddled a Brisbane koala: but the highlight was when he was mitred with a hard-hat at a Seven Hills Factory.
He told our workers that he was one of them and admired their dedication to ordinary work; but, more importantly, that Jesus the Carpenter was one of them and through His Church He offers a wisdom about work, as about all aspects of life, for them and for our world.
Since then the Diocese has been hard at work, establishing five new parishes and 10 new schools, a new cathedral, CatholicCare, the Institute for Mission and much more. Bishop Kevin Manning did much to establish and consolidate these things. Much more is undoubtedly ahead of us, with the most multicultural diocese in the world projected to double in population in the next 25 years and with the youngest median age of any diocese in Australia meaning there is abundant youthful energy.
For what might we hope in this old yet young diocese? Paul’s hope for the young Colossian church was that they might be “God’s chosen people, his saints, his beloved”. Tonight this re-echoes in the young Church of Parramatta: be God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.
Evangelisation and formation
“Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, dwell in you,” Paul says. “Teach and advise each other in all wisdom.” How is that to happen? How are “the little ones” to hear what the educated and clever so often miss? (Lk 10: 17-24)
Education has been and continues to be a major feature of our Diocese, with so many schools leading the way in infrastructure, IT, pædogogy and increasingly in catechesis. Alongside education two words that must mark us in the years ahead are: evangelisation and formation. The Gospel must be proclaimed, in season and out, as Good News for a hurting humanity, with joy, humility and gratitude, and with a willingness to confront the hard things too.
By word and deed we must give testimony to Christ in a society that has long known Him, still today half-knows Him, and deep in its heart will always crave to know Him. We must always be ready to give an account of our hope. And we must be formed for that task, intellectually, affectively, morally, spiritually. Let Christ remake us in His own image, for His great project of making eels into saints.
Devotion and service
Eucharistoi ginesthe says Paul three times in our short epistle – three times he summons us to be thankful. Interspersed are calls to hear the Word of God, to sing psalms and hymns in response, and to receive Christ. This is, of course, a description of the Mass, by which the Son speaking in us gives thanks to the Father.
We join the angels in heaven as they sing Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of angel hosts; but we add to their triple-holy Paul’s triple-thanks: Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you Lord, God of Eucharistic hosts. Filled with spiritual joy like Christ in our Gospel we cry out in thanksgiving to the Father.
But singing in church is not enough: we must also make of our lives outside an inspired song. “Be clothed in sincere compassion, kindness and humility, gentleness and patience, forbearance and forgiveness,” says Paul. Then put on the overalls of love, the chasuble of charity. Many people in Western Sydney thirst for justice and charity. The Church is and must be there for them. In leading and serving, our Diocese declares to all in need: God is love and we are here to show God’s love to you.
Happy eyes and ears
St Mary MacKillop has a particular link to our Diocese, not just because she laboured amongst us in this life, but also because she interceded from heaven to bring about a miracle for one of our parishioners. No wonder our priests and people overwhelmingly asked for her as our patron.
I thank His Excellency, the Papal Nuncio, and through him the Congregation for Divine Worship on behalf of the Holy Father, for agreeing to our petition. Through the intercession of this woman who was not afraid to be a saint, we pray for many more saints in our Diocese and in our land in the years ahead.
Saints are, of course, the truly beautiful, truly happy, truly blessed people. Happy, Jesus tells us, are the poor in spirit, the thirsty for justice, the persecuted for goodness, the grieving for loss. Blessed are the meek and merciful, the pure and peaceful. Beautiful, indeed, the children of God, His chosen, holy and beloved. In tonight’s Gospel Jesus adds another beatitude: “Happy the eyes that see what you see, that hear what you hear.” Happy are the eyes and ears of Western Sydney this night. Happy, in this Easter season, because Christ is Risen and raises us up with Him. Blessed are the eyes and ears of the Diocese of Parramatta, because in His Church we share the hope and consolation, the courage and conviction of Easter. Blessed, for we have seen Him Risen and will yet see Him face to face; we have heard His words and will yet do them again. Happy eyes, happy ears, saints of Parramatta, 25 years old and young, always be thankful!
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