Sydney’s new shepherds: ordination of two auxiliary bishops

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Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral for the Mons Tony Randazzo and Fr Richard Umbers as bishops. On this Feast of St Bartholomew we commend their future ministry to the intercession of the apostles.

I acknowledge the presence tonight of the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, who represents Pope Francis. I salute Archbishop Denis Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, with most of the bishops of Australia.

I also welcome Bishop Denis Browne, Emeritus Bishop of Hamilton, New Zealand, who baptised Bishop-elect Richard.

Tonight we are especially grateful to the Archdiocese of Brisbane, led by co-consecrator Archbishop Mark Coleridge, and to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, represented by co-consecrator Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-Sang of Macau, and Monsignor Victor Martinez, Regional Vicar of Opus Dei in Australia.

With them I welcome clergy and people of Brisbane and priests, numeries, supernumeries and friends of Opus Dei: both families are generously sharing one of their own with the Archdiocese of Sydney.

From our own archdiocese I greet Bishop Terry Brady, who until recently has filled all three spots for Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and, during my illness, for the archbishop as well. I also acknowledge my trusty Vicar General, Fr Gerry Gleeson, with the priests, deacons, religious, lay leaders and faithful of the Church of Sydney. This is a night of great rejoicing for our archdiocese!

I also welcome visiting clergy and religious, civic and religious leaders, and other distinguished guests with us this evening. In particular I acknowledge the presence of Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, representing the Prime Minister; Senator Jacinta Collins, representing the Leader of the Federal Opposition; several Federal and State MPs; and heads or representatives of several of our sister Churches.

It gives us all great joy that Bishop-elect Tony’s parents Colin and Caterina are here, along with Tony’s siblings and family. From Bishop-elect Richard’s family we welcome cousins and his uncle Fr Robert Lee SM.

Given how new-media savvy her boy is, it is fitting that Richard’s mother Mary is joining us by live-streaming to her aged care home in Auckland and we greet her from the other side of the pond.

Many friends of the two new bishops are here too, some having come from interstate or overseas. You are all most welcome.

It is the most confronting image among the enormous cast of characters in the Sistine Chapel. Painted in the late 1530s at the heart of his Last Judgment fresco, Michelangelo places at Christ’s foot a man now risen in the glory of the saints but holding out two symbols of his earthly life and death: in his right hand the knife with which he was flayed alive for professing faith in Christ and, in his left, his skin looking rather like a rubbery wetsuit. It is, of course, the apostle-martyr Bartholomew whose feast the Church celebrates today. Interestingly, the face on the skin is nothing like that used for the saint, but instead resembles that of Michelangelo himself.

Various reasons have been proffered for why the painter gave such prominence and character to St Bartholomew. Is it because Bartholomew is a patron of leather-workers and book-binders, and the popes were then investing big-time in the Vatican library and chapels? Is it humble acknowledgement of the artist’s own need to shed the skin of sin if ever he was to join the saints in heaven?

Or is Michelangelo reminding his intended audience – not today’s tourists and art students, but the Pope and bishops who used the chapel – that death is the great equaliser, when they will be stripped of rank and finery, as naked as the day they were born?

And if salvation is to be theirs, our artist seems to be hinting, the successors of the apostles must be willing to sacrifice earthly comfort and ambition, even their very flesh, so as to die to self and live only for Christ.

If Michelangelo is right in this, we might wonder why bishops wear so much clobber. Is it just the Roman rite, adding layer upon baroque layer as the centuries pass by? Or is it because bishops imagine themselves so grand they choose to dress like the high priests of old?

In fact, the first vestment worn by bishops is the alb, the white garment put on us all when we are baptised: the Bishop wears an alb closest to his skin because he is first and foremost a Christian, washed clean by Baptism, clothed with Catholic faith, and called to share that faith – and hope and love – with all the world.

Over this, on some occasions, the bishop wears a dalmatic, because he is second of all a Deacon, a servant of the word, the altar and the poor. On top of that, if he is celebrating Mass, a chasuble, because he is third of all a priest, one who preaches the Gospel, administers the sacraments and exercises servant-leadership. Only after these come the pontificalia of mitre, ring and so on.

So all this is not just to keep bishops warm for long winter liturgies. Rather it is to remind us all – and not least the bishops themselves, lest old age, heavy responsibilities or all-too-human vanity make them forgetful – that it is only because he is first a Christian, a deacon and a priest that a man can be called to be a bishop.

What come next are signs of his office: a flame-shaped mitre on his head, because it is from the Holy Spirit that he must draw his inspiration; a ring upon his finger, professing the undying love of the Bridegroom of the Church; and a shepherd’s crook, that says he must be an agent of the one Good Shepherd.

And lest all these layers undermine the witness of the apostles, the bishop, whether in the Liturgy or not, wears the great symbol of Christ’s saving Passion and the martyrdom of His followers: a cross.

He wears it on his heart for his must be conformed to that Sacred Heart that was pierced for our salvation.

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Newly-ordained Bishops Anthony Randazzo and Richard Umbers at an ordination rehearsal at St Mary’s Cathedral on 23 August. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

On the night of 24 June, Sydney time, the Aussie dollar soared against the pound sterling. Some put it down to the Brexit vote, then just counted, and the consequent decline of financial confidence in Britain.

Others thought it due to the announcement of two new auxiliary bishops for Sydney, with the consequent leap in spiritual confidence in Australia.

Whatever the explanation, our two new bishops have been appointed in interesting times.

We need only think of recent headlines regarding: hundreds of terrorist deaths in several countries, including the Daesh-inspired slaughter of an 85-year-old priest while celebrating Mass; new governments throughout the Anglosphere; 70,000 purged after a Turkish coup attempt; Donald Trump proposing to exclude M&Ms (Muslims and Mexicans) from the U.S.; plebiscite promised on redefining marriage in Australia; Japanese euthanasia activist kills 19 disabled people, while euthanasia crusaders ramp up campaign in Australia; child abuse royal commission spotlights more failings of the Church, while concerns about juvenile justice spark a new royal commission; doping scandals dog Olympics – all these and more in the few weeks since Pope Francis named these two new bishops!

There will be many more such challenges for humanity in the coming years. And behind the violence and insecurity, the populist politics and shaky economics, the inauthenticity in sport, culture and religion, there are individual heart-breaks and profound moral-spiritual issues.

In the face of such challenges the cry of the human heart is for wisdom voices and inspired leaders. We now look to these two young – youngish – priests to offer our civil and ecclesial communities much-needed witness to holiness, courage and mercy, and fresh insights into the way ahead.

So it is that Tony Randazzo and Richard Umbers have been chosen for the office of bishop. The former is of Italian background and Queensland foreground but was born in Sydney. It was in this very church that his father, Colin, was baptised.

The fortuitousness of the family receiving another sacrament here is magnified by the feast day, as the patron of their Sicilian place of origin is none other than San Bartolommeo. Mons Randazzo’s broad experience as a parish priest, church judge, vocations director and seminary rector will prove invaluable in his new ministry.

While many bishops hail from Sicily and quite a few from Sydney, I am confident that Bishop Richard is the first born in Otahuhu, New Zealand, and raised in Papatoetoe. He has spent his priestly life serving here in Sydney, working extensively with families, as well as engaging young adults as a university chaplain and lecturer.

Bishop Richard’s history with Opus Dei may prove fertile ground for a new Dan Brown novel set in the dark recesses of the Vatican, the Sydney Chancery and the catacombs of Papatoetoe.

Some will be even more alarmed by Bishop Tony’s history with the Vatican Congregation once known as “the Holy Office of the Inquisition”, as a canon lawyer and, most sinister of all, as a (former) supporter of that other State of Origin team!

Far from being fuel for journalistic fantasies, however, I believe the people of Sydney will find our two new shepherds are prayerful and energetic men, intelligent and gifted, with great vision and humour, heads focused on the new evangelisation and deeply pastoral hearts.

My dear brothers, Richard and Tony, today’s saint, Bartholomew, is listed alongside St Phillip as one of the 12 in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3;16-19; Lk 6:13-16; Acts 1:13) and called Nathaniel the guile-free disciple in John’s Gospel (Jn 1:45-51; 21:2). The apostles mostly came in pairs: Simon Peter with his brother Andrew, James the son of Zebedee with his brother John, Thomas the twin and Matthew the tax collector, and in today’s Gospel passage, Philip and Bartholomew-Nathaniel.

Jesus also sent His disciples out two by two (Mk 6:7; cf. Lk 10:1) so they would support, protect and complement each other in their mission. And so tonight the Church chooses you two, two men with similar as well as complementary gifts, and ordains you together for mission as successors to the apostles.

Little is known of what became of St Bartholomew after the Lord’s Ascension, though his name became popular enough to be given to the son in The Simpsons! He is said to have preached in Mesopotamia, Armenia and even India.

It’s unlikely he ever got as far East as the Gadigal land that would eventually be known as Sydney, let alone to wilder places north of our state border or east across the sea. In Albanopolis in Armenia he is said to have been flayed alive, not by the media as is the modern way, but with a knife and by order of King Astyages. His crime was having converted the king’s brother to Christianity.

In Michelangelo’s famous image Bart sits at the foot of Christ returned to judge the world. Jesus “the Second Adam” reprises the First, whose creation and fall the artist had painted on the chapel ceiling thirty years before. Now at the other end of time Christ divides the saved from the damned. No pope or painter, no mitred bishop or albed baptised is exempt.

Though anxious about how he himself would fare at the judgment, Michelangelo had put his considerable creative gifts and energy – and in the end his very own visage – to the service of Christ and His Church. There are many forms of faithful self-spending for Christ alongside martyrdom of blood.

May you both prove worthy successors of Bartholomew and the other apostles, true Israelites without guile, who lend your gifts and passion to beautifying our spiritual world and give our community the prophet-apostle-shepherds we need.

We trust that yours will be an easier passage to the afterlife than Bartholomew’s but we now confer the Holy Spirit upon you so you will “defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of [that] Cross” you now wear upon your hearts (CCC 1303).

This is an edited version of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the episcopal ordination of Bishops Tony Randazzo and Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishops of Sydney, at St Mary’s Cathedral on 24 August.