WelCom November 2023
New Zealand’s Catholic priests have been told to fasten their seatbelts for a journey of change and there is no going back.
In a keynote speech to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests last month, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said the Catholic Church was in an Abrahamic moment, going somewhere with the destination unclear.
‘The spiritual vitality of the Church is largely found in our immigrant communities,’ Archbishop Coleridge told the 175 priests from New Zealand’s six dioceses who met in Rotorua.
‘The centre of gravity of the Church is passing to Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have a Pope from Argentina. It’s fasten your seatbelts time. We are going somewhere and there is no way back.’
The biblical Abraham was told by God to go on a journey, which he set out on not knowing where he was going, Archbishop Coleridge said.
‘We are heading into a future the shape of which is unclear. But the act of faith is that there is one who does know where it is all leading. We must keep our eyes and ears on God. We have to be on the journey, assured of what we do.
‘What we teach as priests seems to be a nonsense to many people in Australia and New Zealand. The Gospels however provide us with that reassurance we need.
‘The stories in the Bible are often unfinished. Why? The stories in the Bible have to be finished in places like Hamilton, Dunedin, Naenae, even Brisbane.’
The Church today has fewer priests than in the past, said Archbishop Coleridge. It is a fact.
‘We cannot sustain the current mode of provision of priests, with far fewer priests and fewer people. The shortage of people is the real problem. There are far fewer people who identify with the Church or come to Mass. People like our schools. They ask why are our schools full and our churches empty? Institutionally we are diminished.’
The abuse crisis is another fact. ‘It looms over everything. It’s been astounding to me how my life as a bishop has been swamped by the abuse crisis. It’s corrosive in a unique way. What has all this done to bishops and priests? We are almost afraid to look at the damage.’
Archbishop Coleridge said the administrative burden on priests has also become more complex and leadership is not as straightforward as it used to be.
‘Think of the papacy. If you see footage of Pope Pius XII [Pope 1939-58], look at the rituals surrounding the papal court and compare it with what happens with Pope Francis now. In between those two popes there has been a dismantling of the papal court, thank God.’
Archbishop Coleridge told the priests they needed to be like Abraham and turn wandering into journeys. ‘Journeying is hard work, but it is going somewhere, to paradise, to the Garden. We have to live between being pilgrim and settler.
‘The priest as pilgrim is someone who can say to all the wanderers, “come on a journey”. But the priest in a diocese is also a settler. The priest has a parish, and people are the community. We have to put down roots in a particular place, a parish. That’s at the heart of what we consider to be spirituality.