Bishop Richard Umbers: Christ first, always

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, Australia, left, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney and other Australian bishops exchange the sign of peace. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Bishop Gerard Holohan of Bunbury, Australia, left, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney and other Australian bishops exchange the sign of peace. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Australian bishops’ Ad Limina pilgrimage to Rome was deeply meaningful

During the last half of June, all the Bishops of Australia gathered in Rome to meet with the Holy Father and the various congregations and dicasteries of the Vatican.

We began our pilgrimage with five days at the same place the Holy Father makes his retreat.

Guided by Br Ian Cribb SJ we undertook Ignatian exercises and shared our insights with each other at the end of each day: a practice that fostered mutual understanding and that we wish to continue in future meetings, listening to what the Spirit is saying.

Beginning the Ad Limina proper with an unforgettable two and a half hour audience with the Successor of Peter, we also celebrated Mass before the tombs of the Apostles and professed the Apostles’ Creed together at each basilica over the course of the following week.

Every unified Profession of the Apostles Creed was a profoundly collegial experience, united before God as Successors of the Apostles.

On each day of the Ad Limina visit, we also met with members of all the Congregations and discussed with them the various needs of the Church in Australia.

Touching upon the themes that have emerged from the Plenary Council Listening and Dialogue Sessions, we spent some time in discussion on what it means to be a synodal and listening Church.

Synodality is not the issuing of a questionnaire and the reporting of the results, rather it is a work of discernment with the Holy Spirit in communion with the universal church, and deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

The way forward has to be one that is dependent on the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council which states in the Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, the whole Church cannot err in matters of faith when there is agreement among the bishops down to the last member of the faithful.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney gives his blessing as he concelebrates Mass with other Australian bishops at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome June 25, 2019. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring)

Quick fixes in response to a crisis are not the answer, rather a well-thought through, actively discerned response is necessary.

We also spoke about the importance of the Seal of Confession in light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Calls for breaking the seal strike at the very heart of every priest’s ministry, and whether we are clergy or lay, we would do well to look to the witness of the martyrs in protection of freedom of conscience.

Attempts to call for general absolution, such as the Third Rite of Reconciliation, are not so much a solution to the issue, but rather a capitulation.

It behooves all bishops to be united in this matter, and all matters of doctrine, cor unum et anima una, as one heart and one mind (Acts 4:32).

And when it comes to evangelising? We need, first and foremost, to be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel.

But what does this mean? A well-oiled prayer life, familiarity with the Word of God, frequently receiving the Sacraments, loving our neighbour as God loves us, supporting others in our daily struggles and trials.

When our daily encounter with God is based on a deep relationship with Him, we cannot help but radiate the joy we receive from our Creator to others.

I want to assist parishes in implementing Parish-based programmes for families, and connecting newly-married couples with more experienced ones who are prepared to accompany the young through marriage and beyond.

Australian bishops concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Australian bishops concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Like wise stewards, our approach to evangelising should be one that draws from both the old and the new in our treasury of Faith.

In offering our culture an anthropology that is grounded in the revelation of Jesus Christ who reveals to mankind what it truly means to be human, we provide a vision for humanity that is grounded in the truth of who God created us all to be and the unique part we play in responding to God’s call to holiness.

And what if everything seems to be falling apart? Well, we are the Body of Christ. God has already won the victory over death.

So we can draw our faith, hope and love from this truth, while we “keep calm and carry on” with Jesus as our one and only reference point, the Cornerstone of our lives.