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A bishop for the people

Bishop Raymond Benjamin

Farewell: Bishop Ray Benjamin with his nephew Tony Benjamin when he was appointed Bishop of Townsville. in 1984

BISHOP Raymond Benjamin, Townsville’s fourth Bishop, was laid to rest in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Townsville on March 17.

The cathedral congregation joined Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Townsville diocesan administrator Fr Mick Lowcock and many other bishops and priests to farewell Bishop Benjamin, 91, who died earlier this month.

Fr Orm Rush, on behalf of the priests of the diocese, spoke warmly of Bishop Benjamin.

“I remember being impressed simply by his graciousness and gentleness, his perceptive insights and his wisdom – qualities I would come to appreciate more and more when knowing him more closely in his retirement,” he said.

“For Ray, as for a lot of bishops, the call to episcopal leadership was a burden he would rather have done without.

“But he took it on. That reluctance, however, became his strength. He let others shine; he allowed things to happen. 

“Rather than being an administrator who was into the detail, Ray was into the big idea, the inspiring vision. 

“Rather than giving precise instruction what he wanted to be done, he allowed participation – and imagination.

“His time as bishop here was sowing seeds for another season. He was a bishop for the Pope Francis era. 

“He was a bishop with the face of mercy. 

“He understood with compassion the messiness of human lives and their often tangled webs.

“Like Pope Francis, he felt at home with the suffering, the marginalised, those for whom life had been unkind, or were the victims of injustice or exclusion. 

“In a word, in his empathy, he was merciful, as his heavenly Father is merciful. He was a holy man, who was well aware of his own failings and limitations.”

Bishop Benjamin was born in Rockhampton in 1925. 

He entered the seminary in Brisbane and was ordained on July 25, 1949.

He served as the fourth bishop of Townsville between 1984 and 2000, after coming from Rockhampton diocese where he served for 34 years, in many country parishes including Mount Morgan, Tambo and Yeppoon.

At the funeral, Fr Lowcock described Bishop Benjamin as a man of no pretentions who saw what God was doing in all the country places he lived. 

“He saw the mystery of God everywhere,” Fr Lowcock said.

In a letter to the Catholic Leader, Joyce Higgins a parishioner from the Townsville diocese added her tribute to Bishop Benjamin.

“In 1993 some of us from our Diocese of Townsville, North Queensland, attended the Liturgical Music Convention “New Song in an Ancient Land”,” she wrote. 

“It took place at the World Congress Centre on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. Bishop Benjamin presided at the opening Mass. 

“He stood on a pontoon on the river and we, the congregation, stood on the river bank and on the steps of the Convention Centre. 

“Bishop Ray devoted his homily to land rights for the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. 

“This caused a huge stir; some were outraged. 

“Bishop Benjamin made it into that night’s television news and to the front pages of the main newspapers the next day with headings like ‘Bishop Calls for land rights’.

“On the last day of the convention, there was a special lunch for Bishops and a barbecue on the river bank for lay people. 

‘Bishop Benjamin came to the barbecue and every time I looked he was walking around talking to people who, that day, labelled him ‘a bishop for the people’.”

Since his retirement to Brisbane, Bishop Benjamin kept a keen interest in the diocese even though his health declined. 

He was in Marycrest Hostel for the last few years of his life.

By Mark Bowling

Catholic Church Insurance

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