Civic Farewell Address of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP

05/11/2014

Address - Civic Leaders Farewell Event St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, Thursday 30 October 2014
Archbishop-elect Anthony with State MP for Parramatta Dr Geoff Lee. Photography: Alphonsus Fok

Address of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Archbishop-elect of Sydney and Administrator of the Diocese of Parramatta, Civic Leaders Farewell Event St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, Thursday 30 October 2014

Your Graces and Reverend Fathers, leaders and representatives of Christian Churches, Federal and State Members of Parliament from the territory of the Diocese of Parramatta, Mayors and Councillors from the several councils in the same region, officers of the law, business leaders, clergy and representatives of the Diocese of Parramatta, and various supporters of the Church: thank you all for coming this afternoon and joining me here at St Patrick’s Cathedral for this farewell event. Thank you, especially, to Dr Geoff Lee and Mr Michael Digges, for their very generous speeches and to Dr Lee for making his remarks in Parliament also.

Back in 2012 I was invited by the then Lord Mayor of Parramatta, John Chedid, to lead a Christmas blessing in front of the Parramatta Town Hall in Church Street Mall. Apart from the privilege of leading the City in this ceremony commemorating the advent of Jesus Christ as a newborn baby in the Manger, I have the fond memory of sharing the stage in full episcopal garb not only with the worshipful Lord Mayor but with two singing and dancing Bananas in Pyjamas. We all do some extraordinary things for our community!

Address - Civic Leaders Farewell Event St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, Thursday 30 October 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

That Christmas event demonstrated many of the things that are precious about Australian society and which we should be very vigilant to protect and strengthen. In some parts of the world religious authority is totalitarian or would be if it could be. Dominating world attention at present are ‘Islamic State’ and related terrorists who seek to impose a one-religion caliphate that enslaves, excludes or kills those of different or no religious belief, Christians certainly, but even fellow Muslims who believe varieties of Islam different to their own. This is an example of faith become deaf to the voice of reason, faith that imposes rather than proposes its doctrines, faith that lacks the moral imagination to coexist peaceably and even live as friends with people who are different to ourselves, faith that uses or is used to achieve control by violence and establish a theocracy.

In other societies, a healthy separation of Church and state becomes a totalitarian secularism or atheocracy that, likewise, seeks to banish all those with whom it does not agree. We need only think of communist countries that forbid or radically limit worship, religious education and practice; or the increasingly intolerant secularism of some Western countries that seeks to limit or abolish freedom of conscience and religion, to end collaboration between Church and state in education, healthcare, welfare or other aspects of civic life, to force faith into a very private realm and exclude religious voices from public life. I could give many examples of this occurring right now or in recent years in the US, UK and Europe. In these presumed polarities between Church and state, it’s a zero-sum game: either religion is in charge of everything, or secular politics is, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Australia has traditionally taken a very different and I think much healthier view of these things. We recognise a proper distinction between the realms of Church and state, each with their own inspiration, ideals, authority, responsibility and methods, mostly leaving each other well enough alone. But there are many overlaps also, and our “lucky country” has inclined to a healthy, pragmatic cooperation between Church and state, rather than the two taking pot-shots at each other across the trenches.

So it is that in Australia the Church generally has the freedom to pursue her own ends, seeking to build up the Kingdom of God in her proclamation, liturgy, sacraments and works of charity, including the provision of healthcare, education and welfare with a Gospel focus. The state generally has the freedom to pursue its own ends, seeking to serve the common good as understood by people of diverse beliefs or none, and so providing for civic defence, policing, courts, laws and policies, social services and benefits, healthcare, public education, planning and the like. Sometimes, however, the state assists the Church and the Church assists the state in providing for services such as education, healthcare and welfare, and this relieves the state of much of the burden while allowing charities and volunteers to add enormous value and to do some things that bureaucracies could never do or do as well. Thus, in this country the Catholic Church contributes to the common good through provision of about 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, and 700,000 school desks. It assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare, the St Vincent de Paul Society and so on. In 1300 parishes and in every walk of life, 5.5 million Catholics contribute in myriad ways to our nation.

Address - Civic Leaders Farewell Event St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, Thursday 30 October 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok

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 underappreciated that often is. There is much to be done to renew that social capital. It has been a privilege to work with all of you on that ongoing project for the betterment of Western Sydney over the past five years. In particular, I salute Premiers Keneally, O’Farrell and Baird, the latter two of whom were/are Minister for Western Sydney, the State Member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee, and the various other state MPs, our federal representatives for Western Sydney and NSW senators, for the very positive meetings and various collaborations over the past five years. I would also like to thank the Mayors, councillors and staff of the several municipal councils. I have come to love Western Sydney and this city of Parramatta in particular where I live, and I think our civic leaders are doing some very impressive things to advance our region.

The Diocese of Parramatta is grateful for your support and assistance in the following areas:

  • purchase of the Old King’s School site and planning approvals currently underway for developing that site in ways that will benefit Church and community
  • establishment of the Parramatta CBD Chapel and St Pauls Books and Gifts Centre
  • development of the old Kenilworth mansion and surrounds for a new seminary and residence for retired clergy at Harris Park
  • establishment of the All Saints of Africa Centre at Blacktown and the Aboriginal Catholic Services Centre at Emerton
  • the various processions, festivals and activities of Catholic youth in and around our streets
  • response to the Springwood bushfires of 2013, including upgraded CatholicCare Social Services counselling by way of a new shopfront in the Springwood township
  • completion of all the Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution projects, which have left many Parramatta diocesan schools in wonderful shape for the future
  • transfer of Baulkham Hills and Mamre Plains services from the Sisters of Mercy so they can be continued and upgraded for the good of the people in the Hills, St Marys and Penrith areas
  • many other developments by the Diocese, its parishes, schools and agencies over the past five years.
The list goes on and on. This really is a very exciting part of the Church in Australia, where the Church is growing fastest, where it is young, energetic and full of hope for the future, where it stands ready to serve our community in many ways. But we are very aware that we cannot do all this alone. We rely on the Lord God above all. We have many generous clergy, employed staff, volunteers and ordinary parishioners, who do so much in His name. But we also have the very Australian collaboration between the Churches and faiths, between the Churches and government at federal, state and local levels, between the Churches, charities, business and academy.
Address - Civic Leaders Farewell Event St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, Parramatta, Thursday 30 October 2014
Photography: Alphonsus Fok
Thank you all for your presence here today and the cooperation that betokens. I have loved my time as Bishop of Parramatta. This has been in no small part thanks to the opportunity I have had to work with you in our common service of the people of Western Sydney. Thank you and God bless!

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