I FIND it interesting that I am speaking to you the day Pope Benedict XVI has stepped down from office.
I guess I am here among you because I am expecting to step down before too long, having turned 75 (popes have a certain priority), and been privileged to minister as a priest and bishop for 50 years.
It is also interesting that I am speaking to you a Rockhampton Churches Together. That certainly did not exist 50 years ago and we can thank the Vatican Council that the approach of Catholics has changed.
I found the first special experience for me, coming from Brisbane 21 years ago, was the vastness of it all.
Travelling early to Longreach, Bundaberg and Mackay, and gradually visiting all the places in between, was an eye-opening experience for many reasons.
I guess having a city background was partially the reason, though I had a special love for the bush given to me by my father.
I had travelled through Central Queensland but never expected to live here.
This diocese is so special because of the people, the religious and the priests and the community spirit of Central Queensland. It is unique.
As well as being part of the rural spirit, the Catholic people I have shared with have often come from faith-filled families.
It is not only in this diocese, but most of our Catholic people have been liberated from a childhood faith, which wasnat always developed, to a mature faith nourished by Vatican II, and the opportunities to grow in adult spirituality, prayer and access to and understanding of the Scriptures and theology.
Our laity themselves have become the leaders, the teachers, the spiritual directors, in roles that were thought to belong to priests / bishops.
Of course, I have experienced this among the people of other Christian communities.
Sisters, brothers and priest have moved through incredible changes, diminishment in numbers and diversification of ministries a from an education focus to welfare, missionary, arts and music etc.
They have been to the fore among the laity who have led the way in faith formation.
They continue to inspire health and aged-care services, while being aware that they need to hand on their charisma to others, who will bring the same Gospel-centred vision to those who have taken up their ministries as associates.
They are a remarkable group of generous servants.
From being a diocese that was sending priests to overseas missions and other Australian dioceses, we have become a diocese greatly dependent on priests from Religious Orders, like the Marists, the Divine Word Fathers, the Holy Spirit Fathers, and the six priests who have come to us from India.
In my years in Rockhampton, quite a number of priests have left the active priesthood.
I think there has been six, who had been ordained since my time as Bishop a three of those have not continued.
When I was in the seminary, it was almost unheard of that a priest would leave. Perhaps, like marriage, separation was rare. All has changed.
This situation has not helped the morale of our priests and has increased their work-load considerably and drawn on the generosity of priests who have retired.
It has brought forth remarkable commitment on their part and loyalty to their ministry and to the people of the Diocese, which is outstanding. To describe them as a[approximately]a[approximately]other Christsa is so deserving, they are so faithful to the task, all of them.
May I simply add that when I came here I found organisations and ministries which surprised and delighted me, like the system of Catholic Education, Catechists representing from all the Churches visiting the government schools, Centacare (Catholic Family Welfare Agencies), Pastoral Services a Prison Ministry, Youth, Justice and Sustainability, Pastoral Planning, Western Ministry, Seafarers, St Vincent de Paul Conferences in most parishes, etc, vibrant Catholic parishes, even with reducing numbers, handing on the faith with parents, to their children. …