Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne Media and Communications Office
Archbishop Peter Andrew Comensoli took his place on Wednesday night in one of the nation’s most influential Catholic pulpits as the ninth Archbishop of Melbourne.
Archbishop Comensoli, 54, is a former banker who has led the Diocese of Broken Bay for the past three and a half years. He was officially inaugurated in a liturgy of installation at St Patrick’s Cathedral rich in the symbolism and magisterial ritual of the Church; a ceremony based on more than 1000 years of tradition, solemnity and celebration.
Concelebrants included Melbourne’s Emeritus Archbishop Denis J Hart and Australian Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge, as well as archbishops and bishops from across Australia and clergy from the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Ecumenical guests included leaders from Christian denominations including Greek and Coptic Orthodox, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Uniting Churches, and leaders from the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities of Melbourne.
As instrumentalists played Italian Baroque Canzonas and Organ Preludes, an estimated three thousand people filled the pews, while groups of tourists and passers-by paused to witness the historic moment. Official proceedings began with a welcome to country from Indigenous Elder and Coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria, Ms 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.
In the wake of one of the greatest challenges to the Church, it is clear that Archbishop Comensoli shares the same passion for justice as the man he replaces, Emeritus Archbishop Denis Hart. In interviews, Archbishop Comensoli has previously 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.
The climax of the service came when the letter from Pope Francis appointing Archbishop Comensoli to lead the archdiocese was read aloud by Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana. The Papal Nuncio read the Papal Bull, first in Latin and then in English, before Archbishop Comensoli was presented with the Cathedral Crozier.
The auxiliary bishops, representatives of the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Melbourne then greeted the new archbishop with a sign of reverence.
Melbourne gave a warm welcome to its new archbishop, with the congregation erupting in applause. Donning the mitre for the first time as head of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the new archbishop smiled and acknowledged his new flock with visible joy.
In his first homily in the role of archbishop
, Archbishop Comensoli displayed some of his engaging personality and pastoral sense of humour for which he is known in Broken Bay, not to mention a comfortable grasp of the art of preaching.
Archbishop Comensoli drew the analogy between his journey to Melbourne with St Paul’s journey to Rome, acknowledging the great responsibility that came with the position along with the great adventure of faith that drew the Apostle to the young Church there.
He asserted his view of his central role in Melbourne but with a newcomer’s deference for the city’s customs and traditions.
During 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. And a good start in sharing the gospel, according to the archbishop, is getting ‘the soil of our culture under our fingernails as we plant seeds of grace and peace.’
For the most part, it was an address to local Catholics, and the message was that they were part of a Church that was ‘a living person, not a lifeless thing’.
The new archbishop drew upon the great 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. And as (the statue of) Mary sits eager and expectant of what lies before her, I now join you on this threshold, poised in anticipation of what we are to do in Christ Jesus.’
With what he called ‘a newbie’s boldness’, he rallied the gathered faithful with a reminder of their proud Catholic legacy. ‘You are a Church that can produce great fruits,’ he said, asserting the faithful in Melbourne were nothing less than ‘saint whisperers’.
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.’
Peter A Comensoli—selected by Pope Francis to succeed Archbishop Hart—arrived at St Patrick’s Cathedral as Archbishop-elect and Bishop of the Diocese of Broken Bay. He left as the metropolitan Archbishop of Melbourne, leader of the largest archdiocese in Australia, with a Catholic population of 1.1 million people.
Followed the service, refreshments were served in Central Hall, 20 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, where the newly-installed archbishop took the opportunity to spend time with his new flock.
Image credits: Casamento Photography, Gavin Abraham