From the joyous moments of vocations, family and faith, to the tragedies of the Martin Place Siege and the loss of Curtis Cheng in the Sydney Police Headquarters shooting at Parramatta, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has stood with Sydney Catholics through a tumultuous year. Here we look back at Archbishop Fisher’s first year as Archbishop of Sydney.
Archbishop Fisher OP’s tenure as Archbishop of Sydney began on 12 November, 2014, on the brink of summer and of a new chapter in the life of Sydney Catholics.
Sydney mustered all available pomp and majesty for the installation, as several thousand worshippers and well-wishers, bishops and eparchs, and other eminent leaders both civic and religious, stood at the ready to welcome the city’s new shepherd.
And yet, for all the evening’s towering music and its solemn and dignified ceremony, what stood out most were the moments of intimacy the archbishop shared as the night progressed, and the care he took greeting many.
At the annual Lourdes Day Mass later that month, the archbishop tackled the topic of euthanasia in the wake of the death of Brittany Maynard, the “beautiful and articulate” 29-year-old US woman with brain cancer who campaigned for euthanasia in the world’s media.
“Once euthanasia is accepted, even as a last resort, those who are suffering tend to suffer more and those who are vulnerable face new threats to their dignity and very life.”
In December he officially opened the Lights of Christmas display at St Mary’s Cathedral.
St Mary’s Cathedral was awash with colour and light as beautiful image after beautiful image turned the grand old church of Sydney into the city’s most ornate of canvasses.
Just days later Archbishop Fisher farewelled from his role as auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Bishop Peter Comensoli, in the midst of a great time of change for the archdiocese.
“On New Year’s Day 2014, Cardinal Pell was the Archbishop of Sydney, Bishop Peter was his auxiliary, and I was the Bishop of Parramatta,” Archbishop Fisher said at the bishop’s farewell from Polding Centre.
“On the last day of 2014, Cardinal Pell will be prefect for the Congregation of the Economy in the Vatican … I will be the Archbishop of Sydney, and Bishop Peter will be the Bishop of Broken Bay.
“How things can change in a year.
“We might say this is an example of ecclesia semper reformanda – the Church always reforming herself.”
When tragedy struck Sydney on 15 December, St Mary’s Cathedral became a haven of peace and comfort just metres from where the Martin Place siege unfolded.
Seventeen people were held hostage for more than 16 hours, including barrister and mother Katrina Dawson and cafe manager Tori Johnson, who were killed in the siege.
Archbishop Fisher OP joined Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Catholics leaders and faithful in an ecumenical service at the cathedral on 19 December.
In his homily at the Red Mass to mark the start of the law year on 4 February, he recalled the tragedy.
“Just before Christmas, only a few hundred metres from this cathedral and even closer to our legal precinct, a man who styled himself ‘Sheik’ Man Haron Monis held a café full of staff and customers hostage for hours, terrorising them and our city, until it ended with three dead,” he said in his homily.
“One was a member of the legal profession, Katrina Dawson, a mother of three young children and gifted member of the bar.
“The response was immediate and dramatic: our city grieved as perhaps never before, over the loss of lives and of innocence, as Martin Place became a sea of flowers and angst, and as people wondered how peaceful democracies can respond to the terror now enveloping some cities and nations.”
In April the archbishop used the first major event of the Year of Consecrated Life to call on consecrated men and women across the Sydney archdiocese to remain faithful to their charisms at a time of “great challenges” for the Church.
“The disenfranchised, the refugees, trafficked men and women, people who are suffering bereavement … the members of consecrated life are just amazing how they respond,” she said, “not necessarily in official capacities, but just in being who they are.”
One of the highlights of Archbishop Fisher’s year, indeed his religious life, came on 25 July when he received the pallium at a Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral.
The woolen band, tipped with black silk to recall the dark hoof of the sheep the archbishop is symbolically carrying over his shoulders, was conferred in the archbishop’s home archdiocese in a departure from recent tradition.
Next came one of the most high-profile events on the archbishop’s calendar when he faced off against Princeton bioethics scholar Professor Peter Singer on the subject of voluntary euthanasia in a debate at Sydney’s packed Town Hall.
“In Prof Singer’s view of life … its point is fulfilling preferences, whereas on my view of life … it is intrinsically valuable,” the archbishop told the audience. “However reduced our condition, we have a radical dignity from our first breath to our last, and that’s the basis of our equality and our human rights. That’s the reason we protect even the hopeless.”
In September he blessed the new statue of St John Paul II at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, his former diocese.
“St John Paul II was truly the saint of the youth. He founded World Youth Days that enabled millions of young people to experience the faith in a new and almost revolutionary way,” the archbishop said.
At St Mary’s Cathedral he witnessed the lighting of 82 candles to represent the 82 children killed by abortion in NSW each day.
Earlier that evening he invited the congregation “to mourn and intercede for these little ones who never got to see the light of day and to pray also for their families, doctors and community so damaged in the process”.
“We join bereaved mothers and fathers, offering forgiveness, love and support,” he said.
In opening and blessing the John Paul the Great Catholic Centre in the University of Sydney later that month, Archbishop Fisher evoked memories of the beloved saint who had a passion for young people.
“Uncle John Paul knew what young people need; that they long for identity and truth; and so their university years can truly graced times of seeking and finding,” he said.
“When visiting the University of Sydney in 1986 and meeting representatives of Australian tertiary institutions, he underlined the centrality of truth to the academic task.
“He argued that the pursuit of truth is what makes the university a genuine service of humanity and even a divine service, revealing something of the mystery of man and so of the God in whose image we are made.”
The archbishop joined archdiocesan priests when they returned to St Patrick’s College, Manly, now the International College of Management, for the annual Vianney Dinner for clergy on 29 September.
The event is a rare chance for Sydney’s priests to share a meal and some memories while honouring their shared vocation.
Last month, during a keynote address to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, he said dialogue, friendship and collaboration between Christians, Jews and Muslims were no longer “optional extras” in a world of fundamentalist theisms and atheisms.
The event at the Great Synagogue marked the milestone anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on Catholic relations with non-Christian religions.
“The children of Abraham must talk the talk together and then walk that talk together,” he said.
Sydney’s four new priests “are truly an international peace-keeping force”, Archbishop Fisher said at the Mass of Ordination at St Mary’s Cathedral on 31 October. “We need more such heroes and I ask you all to pray for and promote vocations in your families, communities and parishes.”
What has been your favourite moment from Archbishop Fisher’s first year? Tell us below.