ARCHBISHOP John Bathersby of Brisbane received personal congratulations from Pope Benedict XVI as 28 “brother bishops”, leaders from other Christian Churches, dozens of clergy and religious, school students, family, friends, and hundreds of people from the parishes gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination.
Representatives from Brisbane archdiocese’s four vicariates were also among the 1200-strong congregation in St Stephen’s Cathedral on March 24 for the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Archbishop’s silver jubilee as a bishop.
It was also a celebration of almost 20 years as Archbishop of Brisbane, in a year when Archbishop Bathersby celebrates the golden jubilee of having been ordained a priest on June 30, 1961.
After recognising indigenous communities who once occupied the land, cathedral dean Fr Ken Howell welcomed various distinguished guests including apostolic nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Anglican Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall, Uniting Church Moderator Reverend Bruce Johnson, Lutheran Church representative Rev Stephen Nuske and Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley.
He thanked all distinguished guests, including Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, Deputy Premier Paul Lucas and bishops from interstate and New Zealand, for their “kind acceptance” of the invitation to attend.
Fr Howell said Archbishop Lazzarotto’s presence “makes us very conscious of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI”.
Archbishop Lazzarotto read a letter relaying the Holy Father’s congratulations and prayers.
Fr Howell said it was “now our privilege to be able to pray” with Archbishop Bathersby and “recognise the joy and gratitude” of his 25-year service as a bishop within the Church.
Archbishop Bathersby’s brother Michael Bathersby proclaimed the First Reading (from Ezekiel 43:11-16) and Sister of St Joseph Cecilia Anning, the Second Reading (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Deacon Nigel Sequeira, on the road to being ordained a priest for Brisbane archdiocese, proclaimed the Gospel from John (17:11,17-23) and Australian catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide preached the homily.
Focusing on the readings and Jesus Christ as “the centre of our lives”, Archbishop Wilson wove into the homily elements from Archbishop Bathersby’s ministry.
“Our most fundamental task in our personal life … is to come to know Christ, to love him and to share him with those around us,” Archbishop Wilson said, adding that love isn’t “just among Christians but goes to the far ends of the universe”.
Archbishop Wilson asked God to bless Archbishop Bathersby for “the gift” he has been to the Church.
“We thank God for the wonderful ways in which he has been able to enrich us because of his fidelity to the Lord,” Archbishop Wilson said.
Towards the end of Mass more about Archbishop Bathersby’s life and ministry was shared including activities as a child in Stanthorpe, education there and in Brisbane, priestly service and his leadership as Bishop of Cairns from 1986 to 1991.
Archbishop Aspinall spoke of the respect with which other Christian Churches regarded the Brisbane shepherd and Archbishop Bathersby’s active and significant role in ecumenism locally and abroad.
In response, Archbishop Bathersby expressed his gratitude for the prayers, presence and words of many witnessed during the Thanksgiving Mass.
“I always wanted to be a pilot,” he said.
“Dad wanted me to be a doctor … (but) then the Sisters of Mercy then moved in and encouraged me to choose the Church.
“(And) I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the blessings I have received.
“You are a superb community here and I will never forget you.”
Archbishop Bathersby was joined by all 28 brother bishops as well as Auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnigan of Brisbane and Archbishop Adrian Doyle of Hobart (who were unable to be present on March 24) for a meal the evening before the Thanksgiving Mass.