The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has paid tribute to his departed predecessor Cardinal George Pell, describing him as “without doubt Australia’s most prominent ever churchman”.
In comments and a homily given during Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 11 January, Archbishop Fisher said he was shocked to wake to the “deeply saddening” news that Cardinal Pell had died from a heart attack in Rome, suffered due to complications following hip surgery.
“For me it was very consoling that I got to meet him several times last week when I was in Rome for Pope Benedict’s funeral,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“He was without doubt Australia’s most prominent ever churchman, having provided strong and clear leadership within the Catholic Church in Australia, as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney.”
“As a member of the Bishops Conference for more than 25 years, it will be for historians to assess his impact on the life of the church in Australia and beyond, but it was considerable, and will be long-lasting.”
Archbishop Fisher noted that Cardinal Pell served under three Popes, was one of the Holy Father’s inner circle of Cardinal-advisors, and served in the “number three” position, as Prefect of the Economy.
In his homily, Archbishop Fisher spoke of the privilege of knowing the Cardinal’s “big heart”, which had given out, but for more than 80 years “served him well, so he could think big, choose big, act big, for the Church in Australia”.
“I’ve known him for 30 years and more and grew close to him for preparations for World Youth Day.
“To take on something that big for a small country like Australia, with a smallish Catholic population, was something only someone of great love and courage could do, and it turned out to be a huge blessing for this land.
Archbishop Fisher also paid tribute to Cardinal Pell’s faithfulness as a pastor and “most courageous faith in Christ, His Church”.
“In the face of trial and tribulation, his faith in God never wavered,” he said.
A Requiem will be held in Rome in coming days for Cardinal Pell, after which his body will be returned to Sydney for burial in the crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Archbishop Fisher invited all Catholics and people of goodwill to pray for the repose of Cardinal Pell’s soul.