Archbishop Philip Wilson sets out his agenda for Adelaide

Archbishop Philip Wilson sets out his agenda for Adelaide

Michael Gilchrist

On 3 December 2001, the Most Rev Philip Wilson - the former Bishop of Wollongong - was installed as the new Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide. It followed a period of 12 months as Coadjutor Archbishop of Adelaide.

Just prior to his installation, Archbishop Wilson, in an interview with Matthew Abraham, editor of The Southern Cross - Adelaide's archdiocesan periodical - set out the principles which will guide him in the future.

"During his 12 months as Archbishop-in-waiting," said Abraham, "he has often been told, sometimes in a good-natured way, sometimes not, that he must learn the 'Adelaide way of doing things' as archbishop."

Adelaide's new Archbishop offered the following response: "While some people who have entrenched positions may say you have to accept the Adelaide way of doing things, there may be an element of that, but they may also accept that these things evolve too. That the Adelaide way of doing things depends on whoever is archbishop at the time."

The installation ceremony itself was reminiscent of Archbishop George Pell's five years earlier at Melbourne's historic Exhibition Building, with the Adelaide Entertainment Centre chosen as the venue. It enabled some 7,000 laity and dignitaries, priests and bishops to be accommodated - six times more than St Francis Xavier's Cathedral could hold.

The triumphant air given the occasion by the presence of cardinals, bishops and priests in great numbers, plus the choice of traditional hymns, created a welcome sense of reverence which transcended the secular ambience of the Entertainment Centre.

From a store of old things and new, the installation ceremony made a clear connection between the traditions of the Church and its presence in the modern world. Archbishop Wilson made this evident in his affirmations of loyalty to the Holy Father and his assurances of pastoral service to the faithful given his care. His homily, delivered in tones of warmth and authority, spoke with fervour of the beauty of Christ and His Church.

This theme was picked up in a feature article in The Age (10 December 2001) by Christopher Pearson, editor of The Adelaide Review, who commented: "The most remarkable thing about Archbishop Wilson's accession to the throne last week was his sermon. He spoke about the transformative power of beauty, a subject on which the Catholic Church in Australia has long been mute or worse.

"I'm not just talking about horribly designed suburban brick Mass-barns - 'Pizza Hut churches' - but botched liturgical compromises and the neglect of 2000 years' worth of lovely music. It was a sermon about rapture.

"Archbishop Wilson's homily on the centrality of beauty ... owed something to the Jesuit Cardinal Martini's book Saving Beauty. More evident was the influence of Hans Urs von Balthasar ... The order of service itself, despite the now de rigueur multicultural frills, was seemly and the singing of old favourites such as Salve Regina and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence enthusiastic."

Spiritual beauty

As Mr Pearson noted, the theme of spiritual beauty was given prominence in Archbishop Wilson's homily. "The place where this encounter of beautiful and vivifying love with the Shepherd is possible," he said, "is the Church: in the Church the beautiful Shepherd speaks to the hearts of each one of his sheep and makes the gift of his life for us present in the sacraments ...

"We live that beauty. We reflect that beauty. Our responsibility as the community of faith is to let that beauty take hold of our lives and illuminate everything we do to give energy to our witness and our discipleship of the Lord.

"So in a very real sense our major work in the life of the Church today is to allow our hearts to be captivated by that beauty again and to be resolved to reveal that beauty to all those around us."

Applied, for example, to the liturgy - the very centre of Catholic faith and practice - this focus on spiritual beauty would necessitate a re-emphasis on reverence at worship and a greater sense of the sacred in church music. It would be a welcome development if Adelaide under its new Archbishop were to be a trend- setter for Australian Catholicism in this regard.

Earlier, in his Southern Cross interview, Archbishop Wilson identified "three key insights that he plans to emphasise", namely, "the centrality of Sunday Mass in the parishes, the key role of the Bible in forming faith and the life of prayer, and finally the family as the major focus of the Church's pastoral activity."

On the role of Catholic schools in the diocese, he said they should exist "to support the work being done in families in the education of faith in the children".

Many Catholic parents would be gratified at this acknowledgement of the primary role of the family in religious upbringing - including such aspects as education in chastity.

Significantly, in light of the efforts in some quarters to promote the role of smaller groupings of the faithful - such as Basic Ecclesial Communities - at the expense of the parish, the Archbishop made clear that these kinds of initiatives should defer to the central role of the parish, which "must care for all in a community", and be confined to assisting "the parish to go about its work and do what it has to do".

He concluded: "I think the notion of a parish based within a particular geographical region with a community centred upon the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments is not a dinosaur by any means but in fact it would seem to me like someone once said about the family, that the parish should be a haven in a heartless world."

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.