Address given by Archbishop Hart to the International Serra Convention, Catholic Leadership Centre, Saturday, 1 August 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
A very warm welcome to Melbourne for this International Convention. Your presence here gives tremendous encouragement to our work of promotion of vocations, continuing Catholic education and warm fellowship. Pope Francis has been constant in reminding us that the Gospel is always to be embraced with joy and to carry us forward in the mission which we are given.
In 2001 Pope John Paul II said to us bishops: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion.” (Post-Synodal Exhortation, Ecclesia et Oceania, 22 November 2001, 19)
From a small foundation in 1935 in Seattle, Washington, and after recognition in 1951 by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, expansion came to Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. As you know your 800 clubs in 37 countries with a membership of 19,000 men, women and permanent deacons are undertaking a highly significant work at this important time in the Church.
Fra Junipero Serra lived from 1713 to 1784, travelling to the New World, arriving in Mexico City in 1749. We know too that by 1768 he was the Superior of a band of fifteen Franciscans for the Indian mission in California and did such remarkable work in California that he was recognised by Pope John Paul II on 25th September 1988 at his Beatification when the Pope said: “He sowed the seeds of Christian faith amid the momentous changes wrought by the arrival of European settlers in the New World. It was a field of missionary endeavour that required patience, perseverance and humility, as well as vision and courage.”
It is not surprising then that Fra Junipero Serra was chosen as your Patron because of his patient missionary endeavour. We will all rejoice in his forthcoming canonisation by Pope Francis on his visit to America in September.
Tonight in recognition of the work of Serra I note your objective to promote vocations to priesthood and consecrated life. I do highlight too the particular vocation to service, so that you respond in your own lives to God’s call to holiness in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. I thank you for your prayer and good works in encouragement of vocations.
A few days ago I celebrated my 48th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. I remember the days when there were 220 young men studying for the priesthood for the four Dioceses of Victoria and the Archdiocese of Hobart. If we are counting purely by numbers we would have to say that in the latter part of the twentieth century numbers in our Seminary have declined. This year at Corpus Christi College here in Melbourne we have 59 seminarians and are faced with building accommodation to cope with additional students. Instead of merely 5 Dioceses we now assist the Bishops of South Australia and Northern Territory. This year I will ordain 9 young men to the priesthood for Melbourne.
The make-up of the Church here has changed considerably. With a huge increase in migrants we have successfully been able to bring priests from overseas to supplement our numbers of local priests. By and large these are relating well to the people in our very multi-cultural parishes. Melbourne is the largest Diocese in Oceania with a Catholic population of 1,133,000 in a total population of 4,172,000. We have 300 diocesan priests and 191 religious and constantly about 12,000 young people are presented for baptism each year.
I have highlighted the vocation to service and the call to holiness in the life of Serrans because I believe that nowhere more in the Church’s history is Serra more needed. With fewer vocations to the priesthood I believe it is the example of faithful and joy-filled Catholics that will draw young people to the magnificent call of Jesus Christ.
Above all, the priesthood is about God and people and the interaction which we have with God and with each other through the sacramental and spiritual life enriching the common humanity with which God has blessed us.
We are burdened, it is true, in a serious way by the evil deeds of a few priests, religious and church workers. I know that the overwhelming majority of good priests are finding this time in our history particularly difficult. The challenge interrupts the way in which we are able to relate to people. Some people are hurt and suspicious. Others are suspending judgement about the Church. Yet, in this very context Pope Francis says: “A Church which goes forth is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. It means to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another, to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. The Church is called to be the house of the Father with doors always wide open.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 46-47)
I believe that there is a particular way in which Serrans can help priests at this stage; by providing prayer above all, by encouraging and welcoming priests to continue their ministry with hope and joy. After all we are nourished by the Gospel not by human esteem or by the judgement of our society. Indeed, in modern society we are becoming more and more counter-cultural, but we need to remember the great riches which we offer to our people.
Your human friendship, your encouragement of priests in the projects to reach out to people, is absolutely vital. I thank you for your magnificent service, but also I encourage you to continue it in this particular way with the suggestion that your goodness might even be valued more than you think, despite the constant attacks upon the Church and questions about our integrity.
Here in this Diocese we have 332 schools and we educate 150,000 young people. Schools are often the only contact that people have with the Church and what we are seeking to offer through our schools, hospitals and social outreach is a clear indication that the mission of the Church and the call of Christ to priesthood and consecrated life is more relevant than ever and more needed than ever as people seek to find an answer to their great spiritual and human hunger.
In your membership and outreach the words of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium are relevant: “The awareness that the entire community is called to evangelise and educate the young and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership” (No. 106), needs to be kept at the front of our mind.
The Pope’s diagnosis in the following number is also telling: “Many places are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Where there is life fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise. Even in parishes where priests are not particularly committed or joyful, the fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration.” (Evangelii Gaudium, No. 107)
And so as I thank you above all for your great faith and your wonderful support I urge you with me to see the challenge, nay, the great invitation of the Lord to go forward in hope, to present the wide open doors of the church, the welcoming arms of Jesus’ love and the hope which only the Gospel can offer in your daily lives, in your parishes and communities and in your witness to the Church.
Thank you for all that you do. May the Lord bless you and may Jesus live in your hearts forever.
+ Denis J. Hart,
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE.