Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese's new Archbishop-elect+Prowse gave a media conference yesterday, and there are write ups of his comments in Canberra Times and on the ABC website, as well as a letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese, and a youtube snippet (see below).
Spiritual and physical poverty
He made a particular pitch for concern about the poor, in line with Pope Francis' directions, as well as suggesting that the message of the Church for Indigenous Australians should be a priority.
But the Canberra Times' typically secularist spin was that he was reluctant to be seen in front of his new Cathedral: "Eventually he was lured by the media pack to the front of St Christopher's for photographs, but Canberra's new Catholic Archbishop didn't want his first public event to be held at the cathedral."
Maybe, though in fact the ABC features a nice enough photo of the Cathedral (see above). And in any case fair enough given the message from the top.
The CT reports that Archbishop-elect Prowse said:
"God loves everybody but he has favourites and they are the poor,'' Bishop Prowse said later.
"So, get to know the poor and where the poor are ministered and then you're going to have a very clear indication of where God is.
"I'm taking my lead also particularly from Pope Francis where he's told us to get out of the office and spend more time on the periphery and on the margins; get to know the poor and let them get to know you.''
And it is true that some Catholic organisations in Canberra do a lot of good work for the poor - every week I see the wonderful Sisters of Charity, for example, running a soup kitchen in the park near my house, and I do see the homeless welcomed in at least some of our parish churches.
But equally, all too many Canberra parishes and communities reflect a middle class ethos that is hard to counter in a town like Canberra with extremely high education and average earning levels: so easy to assume that everyone is well off, and forget that some are living on very low or non-existent incomes indeed. That some are isolated in their homes without access to transport due to illness, disability or poverty, and so find it hard to get to Mass and other events.
One of the key challenges for the Church in Canberra-Goulburn, as elsewhere, I think, is to rebuild the parish infrastructure that goes with being a genuine community that cares first of all for its own, as well as reaches out to others in need.
All the same, I really hope that the Pope, and more particularly our bishops, might also start selling a little more the message that spiritual poverty is an even greater problem than material want; for while material want can be dealt with by any NGO, spiritual poverty is a problem that only the Church can deal with.
And while spiritual poverty is a particular problem for those who lack material goods (as Fr Ray Blake's now infamous post on the subject makes clear), it isn't restricted to them: it is, alas, all too evident in the banal liturgies and empty churches of the typical Canberran parish; the want of priests in the regional parts of the diocese; and in the dire spiritual state of our schools. Bishop Prowse has a big task in front of him!
Listening and leading
Archbishop-elect Prowse also indicated that he will be doing some listening once he arrives:
Bishop Prowse said one of his first jobs would be to listen to the local Catholic community.
"One of the major mistakes in leadership - whether it be ecclesiastical or any other leadership - is you come in with a bag of agenda and you're just going to apply it in a hammery way. That's not helpful,'' he said.
Bishop Prowse was particularly keen to get to know the archdiocese's rural parishes and the concerns and the needs of their parishioners.
"It's a big rural diocese with a substantial city - Canberra - more or less in the middle of it. So, I'll be doing a lot of travelling to all the communities that I can go to get to know them.''
Engaging with priests and people in the Archdiocese is obviously important. Anyone wanting to make changes needs to know the lie of the land, find those who will support his agenda or are at least open to being persuaded, and know where to expect opposition from.
Listening can't be a substitute for leadership though: the hard reality is that Canberra-Goulburn needs to change drastically, and that will be confronting.
The bishop made it clear, in his press conference, that he sees himself as a bishop not just for those few remaining Catholics who actually turn up at Church occasionally, but for all people living in the diocese. That is exactly right: the Churches task is to claim back for Christ all those who have voted on the direction of the Australian Church over the last several decades with their feet; and to reach out and convert those who have not truly heard the Gospel at all.
That task cannot be accomplished by doing things the way we have been, the way people in the system are comfortable with.
True leadership, as the life of Jesus demonstrates all too clearly inevitably creates 'losers', challenges those in positions of power and thus all too often creates martyrs, whether red or white, of those seeking to make change. Yet we need priests, bishops and laity willing to endure that martyrdom, for the literal and metaphorical blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the Church.
Today is the feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, a reminder that though the Christian life has three axes, including the Incarnation and Resurrection, it is through the Cross that we are redeemed.
But for what it is worth, I would suggest as reading for any new bishop (or indeed anyone embarking on a new leadership role) what I think is a really great book aimed at secular leaders, Leadership on the Line, by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. We rely on grace, the aid of the Holy Spirit and our hard won experience: but that doesn't mean we should disdain to learn the lessons available by study!
A letter from the bishop...
The Archbishop-Elect has also written a letter to members of his new Archdiocese:
Dear People of God in the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn,
You have been waiting patiently for the Holy Father to send you a new Archbishop. Your beloved Archbishop Mark Coleridge was transferred to the Archdiocese of Brisbane about 18 months ago. Thank you for your prayerful watchfulness and intercession.
To my great surprise, His Holiness, Pope Francis, has appointed me as your Archbishop of Canberra & Goulburn. I thank the Holy Father for his trust and confidence in me to be your new Archbishop.
Totally relying on the Lord Jesus’ grace and mercy, I accept humbly and wholeheartedly this appointment.
It happens in the Year of Faith. May this appointment be seen as a way of strengthening our faith in Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
I come to you as a simple pilgrim in Christ. We are largely unknown to each other. Yet, already we know each other in a certain way by the bonds that unite us together in our Catholic faith. We have much time ahead to “encourage one other and build up each other” (1Thess.5/11).
The work of evangelization will continue afresh in the Archdiocese. Already you have done much. Let us gather even closer to God’s favorites: the poor and marginalized. There is a sense of urgency in the mission that still awaits us. Let us place again Jesus at the very center of this mission right now.
Until I am installed as your new Archbishop and thereafter, may I ask you most sincerely to pray for me. I have need of your prayer support.
May Jesus bless you, your families, and loved ones.
Bishop Christopher Prowse
Got some ideas for +Prowse?
I'd also invite readers from Canberra-Goulburn to think about what particular priorities they would suggest for our new bishop. Feel free to note them in the comment box!
Above all, though, please keep the Archbishop-elect in your prayers, especially over the next few weeks and months.