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Former ambassador to the Vatican Tim Fischer AC dies aged 73

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Tim Fischer
Former deputy PM and ambassador to the Vatican Tim Fischer was also awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).

Tributes from not only Australian political and religious leaders but international diplomatic figures have poured in for former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer AC, who died from acute leukaemia aged 73 on Tuesday.

Mr Fischer, a prominent Catholic, served as Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See from 2008-2012 and since then he acted in envoy roles to Bhutan, Eritrea and South Sudan for the Australian Government.

He was leader of the National Party for nearly a decade during the 1990s and he served as Australia’s 10th deputy prime minister under John Howard. In 2016 he was diagnosed with mild leukemia and in October 2018 this graduated to acute leukemia.

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney paid tribute to the former Deputy PM and Ambassador to the Vatican, saying he was saddened to hear Mr Fischer had died.

“Mr Fischer served as Australia’s first full-time Ambassador to the Holy See at the Vatican from 2008 to 2012 and played a pivotal role in planning the canonisation ceremony for Mary MacKillop in 2010,” Archbishop Fisher recalled.

“He was a man of deep faith and integrity, which earned him respect from both sides of federal politics. I will keep his wife Judy and sons Harrison and Dominic in my prayers.”

John McCarthy QC, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See from 2012-2016, said that the news of Mr Fischer’s death would be “a great sadness and loss to his wife Judy and his sons, to all who knew him and to Australia”.

“Tim Fischer gave a lifetime of service to our country, in the military, in parliament, in government, in diplomacy, to those with disabilities, and in his books and publications,” he said.

“He always knew his thoughts and he expressed them. He was a loyal Catholic, a farmer, a soldier, and cared deeply for Australia and Australia whom he loved wholeheartedly.”

Mr Fischer could have claimed to be the country’s biggest train buff, Mr McCarthy said.

“If anyone deserves to be on the train to heaven it’s Tim. I offer my deepest condolences to Judy and his sons. Requiescat in pace.”

Current and former Vatican diplomats, including the former Prime Minister of Poland, also expressed their sadness at the loss of a colleague who was both widely respected and popular.

The Dean of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps – who is also Cyprus’s Ambassador to the Vatican – George Polides, issued a statement on Thursday co-signed by a number of colleagues conveying their condolences to Mr Fischer’s wife Judy and his sons Dominic and Harrison.

“Tim served as Australia’s first resident Ambassador at the Vatican. It was during  that time that we started out as colleagues and became lifelong friends,” the statement said.

“He will be greatly missed by his many friends in Australia and across the world.  He served Australia with distinction and integrity and we mourn the passing  of a wonderful diplomat who was a colleague and friend and someone who did so much to make this world a better place.  May he rest in peace.

The statement was also signed by former Polish Prime Minister of Poland and Ambassador to the Holy See, Hannah Suchocka, as well as the former British Ambassador to the Vatican and incoming Vice Chancellor of the university of Notre Dame, Francis Campbell.

Other signatories were former Canadian Ambassador to the Vatican, Anne Leahy, and former Irish Ambassador, Noel Fahey.

Archbishop Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, paid tribute to the former Ambassador.

He said Mr Fischer was a larger-than-life personality who throughout his career was genuinely dedicated to service.

“Tim was a man of many interests and with many talents, but those of us who have known him will remember most his warmth, his humanity and his strong conviction to pursue what is right,” he said.

As Australian ambassador to the Vatican from 2009-12, Australia’s first official saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, was canonised; Mr Fischer had been a strong advocate for her canonisation throughout his tenure.

In 2012, he was made a Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Pius IX, one of the Church’s highest honours.

“Tim was very proud to be our man at the Vatican at the time and was a remarkable host and ‘ambassador’ for Church and country,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

He noted that “Tim was renowned for his love of trains and, even during his time representing Australia in Rome, he managed to reactivate the Vatican railway”.

“He was loved by all who met him”, the Archbishop said, “and we mourn his passing. But we also celebrate all that Tim gave to his family, his community, his Church and his country.

“May he rest in the peace of Christ.”

Reports emerged on Tuesday 20 August that Mr Fischer was gravely ill and being treated at the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre.

Tim Fischer AC.

In May, when he opened a museum dedicated to his life at his birthplace of Lockhart, near Wagga Wagga, he revealed to reporters that he was hoping for a remission.

“Almost in remission, not quite,” he said.

In 2013, at the Brisbane launch of his memoir of his time at the Vatican, Holy See, Unholy Me, Mr Fischer spoke of the “great privilege” of working as Australia’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See, of the contributions he was able to make while there, of the impact of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation on his own faith journey and the timing of Pope Benedict’s resignation.

The Catholic Leader
reported that Mr Fischer said he had predicted Pope Benedict’s resignation based on portents including the Pope’s two visits to the tomb of Pope Celestine V. The pope and later saint resigned the papacy in 1294 in Naples.

“I got the year wrong as I thought would be 2014,” he said. “Pope Benedict’s retirement was brilliantly timed, absolutely correct.”

Mr Fischer, who first became an MP at the age of 24, led the Nationals from 1990 to 1999 and was deputy prime minister from 1996 to 1999.  He quit politics in 2001.

He was born in Lockhart, NSW, in 1946, and served in the Vietnam War, later becoming a farmer. Mr Fischer had attributed his more than 10 year on-and-off-again battles with cancers to exposure to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam.

More to come

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Tim Fischer backs Pope’s picks for meeting

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