Last night Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral was alight for a great moment of grace for the whole country.
Around 3000 were present for the installation of Archbishop Peter Andrew Comensoli as the city’s ninth archbishop.
He used the occasion to call Melbourne’s faithful to get their hands dirty planting “seeds of grace and peace” with him.
“May I claim a newbie’s boldness and remind you of what I already know about you? You are a Church that can produce great fruits,” he said in his homily.
Concelebrants included Melbourne’s Emeritus Archbishop Denis Hart, Australian Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Sydney Auxiliary Bishops Terry Brady, Tony Randazzo and Richard Umbers.
Also present was Pope Francis’ representative in Australia, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, who read the Papal Bull proclaiming the Pope’s appointment of Archbishop Comensoli as leader of the nation’s largest archdiocese.
Leaders from Christian denominations, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities joined civic leaders including former deputy prime minister Tim Fisher and Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
Under the soaring arches of William Wardell’s majestic Gothic architecture a liturgy rich in symbolism, and representing two millennia of tradition was celebrated.
Proceedings began with a welcome to country from Indigenous Elder and Coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria, Sherry Balcombe.
Archbishop-elect Comensoli then entered the cathedral at the West Door, where the Dean of the Cathedral John Salvano offered him a crucifix to kiss and holy water with which to bless himself and the congregation.
The new archbishop’s arrival represents a generational changing of the guard for the archdiocese, but he assured the faithful that the office’s commitment to Catholic teaching and tradition would continue unchanged.
Donning the mitre for the first time as head of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the new archbishop smiled and acknowledged his flock with visible joy.
In his homily he emphasised particular elements of the Church’s mission, with a focus on the need to be a Church of action, marked by joy and mercy and sharing a lived gospel.
“Our common task is a missionary one,’ he said, adding that the Church in Melbourne is not part of an NGO or a museum but ‘a living person”.
The new archbishop drew upon the legacy of Australia’s first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop.
“I’ve come from the city where Mary completed her missionary journey, to the city where she began it. You are the Church that produced Australia’s first saint.”
The archbishop stressed his desire not for a fresh start but for a rejuvenation in the Church’s mission.
“Yes, we carry great wounds and griefs, and faith can be a struggle, but we – the Church in Melbourne – can be young again, in Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has offered his “warmest congratulations” and promise of prayers for the new archbishop.
“It was a delight to join the thousands of Melbourne faithful along with my brother bishops and hundreds of clergy at St Patrick’s Cathedral,” he said.
Archbishop Comensoli, 54, is a former banker who has led the Diocese of Broken Bay for the past three and a half years.
He now leads the largest archdiocese in Australia, with a Catholic population of 1.1 million people.
However he has a big job on his hands for the immediate future in other ways given that Melbourne has been a major centre of allegations of sexual abuse by church employees and clergy in recent decades.
Archbishop Comensoli vowed to ‘right the grievous wrongs of the past’ and rebuild trust following the widespread damage caused by the child sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Church in recent decades.