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People’s bishop farewelled

By Paul Dobbyn

Farewell: Bishop Michael Putney’s coffin is carried by pallbearers from Sacred Heart Cathedral. Photo: Townsville Bulletin

Farewell: Bishop Michael Putney’s coffin is carried by pallbearers from Sacred Heart Cathedral. Photo: Townsville Bulletin

HEARTFELT tributes from fellow clergy and co-ecumenists, a sister’s affectionate recall of a loving family member, a police-escorted motorcade to his final resting place in the Sacred Heart Cathedral  – Townsville’s farewell to Bishop Michael Putney powerfully portrayed the impact of his multi-faceted life.

Townsville’s fifth bishop, known by many as the “People’s bishop”, had loved his diocese and the wider community and its people reciprocated.

Many had supported him with prayers and messages of support right up to his death on March 28 after a long battle with stomach cancer.

More than 1000 people overflowed the Sacred Heart Cathedral at the Vigil and Sharing of Memories on the night of Sunday, April 6.

An crowd estimated in excess of 2500 people attended his Funeral Mass at Ryan College’s Emmaus Hall the following day with 350 people watching via video link in nearby Ryan Community Centre.

A didgeridoo opened the Funeral Mass attended by 27 bishops and 70 priests.

Palm Island residents were among those present, recalling the bishop’s visit there after the troubles in 2004.

The service was also streamed live on YouTube.

Former Townsville Bishop Ray Benjamin, now in retirement in Brisbane, was among the many hundreds watching the live stream.

At last Sunday’s Vigil, many religious and civic leaders honoured Bishop Putney.

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher, recently appointed diocesan administrator Fr Mick Lowcock, Bishop Putney’s colleague and close friend Fr Orm Rush were among those paying tribute.

A message from the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of Pope Francis was read out noting that “He (Pope Francis) gives thanks for Bishop Putney’s life and priestly value, and in particular for his witness in the last months of his life to the redemptive value of suffering.”

Diocesan chancellor Len Horner said the prayers through the night for Bishop Putney following the vigil were part of a “beautiful tribute”.

“It was a wonderful experience to be present as groups and individuals honoured his request and prayed earnestly through the night,” he said.

“About 50 members of the Indian Orthodox church were in the Cathedral from 1am and when I left just after 2am they had been replaced by a large group of Syro Malabar Rite Catholics along with a small group of individuals.”

This vast outpouring of affection and respect continued at Bishop Putney’s Funeral Mass at 11am on April 7.

School children formed a guard of honour for the coffin.

Funeral Mass celebrant Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge in his homily, noting the vast gathering, said “in a sense, then, the whole of the Christian world gathers with us here today in Townsville.”

“Because the one whom we farewell made a contribution reaching far beyond this city, this state, this country; his was a profile reaching far beyond the Roman Catholic Church, in whose life he was so immersed, the Church he loved so deeply,” he said.

Following Mass, Bishop Putney’s police-escorted cortege proceeded to the Sacred Heart Cathedral the bishop loved so well.

Here he became Townsville’s first bishop to be interred in the cathedral crypt.

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