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Perth flocks to farewell its shepherd

Article: B Spinks, Cover Photo: Supplied.

The Archdiocese of Perth honoured their spiritual shepherd of more than 20 years at the ‘People’s Farewell’ at St Mary’s Cathedral on 6 March with Mass & a soiree of Addresses and musical interludes, organised to farewell the outgoing Archbishop of Perth.  
Archbishop Barry James Hickey - who was born in Leonora in 1936, ordained a priest in Rome, 1958 and has led this Archdiocese since October 1991 - will be oft remembered fondly for his leadership, compassion and humble witness to the Good News of Jesus.

More than 1500 of his friends and supporters attended the Farewell, including Premier Colin Barnett, Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, Anglican Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft, members of his family and hundreds of parishioners from across Perth.

Pope Benedict XVI announced a fortnight ago on 20 February that Archbishop Hickey’s successor would be Archbishop-designate Timothy Costelloe – thus formalising his acceptance of Archbishop Hickey’s letter of resignation which was handed in following Church protocol on his seventy-fifth birthday in April last year.

The Mass was understated yet prayerful, embellished with the simple but beautiful Plain Chant.

The readings for the occasion were not specially chosen but were taken from the Mass of Tuesday, the second week of Lent. They spoke of Isaiah’s call to a clean heart in the eyes of the Lord (Isaiah 1.10:16-20) and Jesus’s call to humility in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 23: 1-12).

The prelate kept his homily related to the words of the Gospel, saving his fond farewell for after the Mass.

With an organ and didgeridoo piece providing an overture for the offertory and preparation of gifts, there was a mystical ambiance in St Mary’s Cathedral ahead of the consecration.

This presence and resonance of the didgeridoo highlighted Archbishop Hickey’s - or Father Hickey’s, as they know him - compassion for the Indigenous community.

Archbishop Hickey kept the fanfare and extra items for the Ceremony of Thanks for after Mass.

St Mary’s Cathedral Choir and soloist Yann Kee sang an Italian operatic Marian hymn, ‘La Vergine degli Angeli’ to open the ‘Ceremony of Thanks’ once Mass had ended.

Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton and the former Vicar for Clergy, Fr Brian McKenna each honoured Archbishop Hickey.

Fr McKenna spoke of Archbishop’s compassionate nature, his understanding, patience and gentleness as well as his frequent practical and personal generosity.

He commented on the way Archbishop Hickey would often have a stack of five-dollar-notes to hand out to those in need that he personally encountered.

Fr McKenna added that when Archbishop Hickey was once criticised that he was “too soft” on a particular matter, he said that when he gets to the pearly gates and meets St Peter, he will be asked, “Were you compassionate?”.

When Archbishop Hickey came to the microphone, he held back the emotion as he spoke of his late brother, Brian, whom he said he wished could have been present at the occasion.

“Life and death are part of God's plan for us and we must accept that his life - his beautiful life - is now ended only to begin a wonderful new life with God in the life to come,” he said.

This sadness, he said, was eased by the knowledge that Brian’s grandson and his wife have just had a little baby boy who is less than seven days old and that the family was sitting in the front pew in support.

“So we see death and we see life. We see the cycle of creation continuing under God's guidance,” he said.

While the hundreds who filled the Cathedral and spilled onto the forecourt were there to offer their support and thanks, the ever-gracious and humble Archbishop honoured them.

He thanked his family, the function organisers and the priests who were there present.

“I'm pleased with the number of priests. There is a priest's farewell next week but they'll probably go to both and I'm very grateful they've come tonight to show their friendship, their loyalty and I hope their love,” he said.

He reflected on various aspects of the state of the Archdiocese that he leaves behind; the re-established St Charles Seminary in Guildford and the pioneering Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Morley.

“They are both full and that ensures sufficient priests for the future,” he said.

He was pleased not to have found it necessary to close parishes - as has happened in other parts of Australia – as there was no shortage of priests here.

He said the Archdiocese of Perth’s parishes were “vibrant and vital” and those on the outer limits of Perth are bustling with huge numbers.

He is pleased, he said, that there are new families, and young children all learning about Jesus and what it means to follow in his footsteps.

He said he was proud of the huge education system offering Catholic education and Christian values.

He was grateful for the agencies that reach out to those at street level but also at professional level along with prayer, focus and action groups of various sorts, all of which reflect the health of the church.

He said he saw his role of Archbishop as ‘overseer’ which is what the word for Bishop traditionally means in Greek and that he has sought to do the best he can.

“I've learnt on the job. One starts very naive but gradually wisdom comes. And I am grateful for the cooperation of so many in the church because I think I leave it in good condition,” he said.

“I’ve done my best,” he said but added that he wanted to apologise to anyone whom he might have hurt over the last 20 years.

“I’m sure there have been some where expectations of me have fallen short in their judgment and I can offer myself as no more than just a fallible human being trying to read the mind of God and follow it and sometimes I make mistakes and for those mistakes I ask forgiveness,” he said.

He also mentioned that the office of Archbishop is about encouraging the people he shepherds to be witnesses to Jesus – “to be witnesses to the standards that he calls for in love, in generosity, in good living, in honesty, integrity and all those things that build up the church and build up the nation”.

He was pleased to see the Premier and members of parliament present because their job was important too and that the church and government interface – not only through dialogue but through those that govern, when they bring their faith to the decisions made in the interests of the people.

He said he had spoken out at times knowing that he would get attacked, and subsequently he has been attacked. But this is part of the price that one pays, he said.

“One cannot live in a ghetto, one has to be part of a society in which one lives,” he said.

Every church is part of that society and must make its contribution in the hope that others are listening, he said.

“We cannot force our views on anyone – we do not try to - but we ask them to listen as we listen to others who do not share our views,” he said.

In two weeks, after the hand over on 21 March, Archbishop Hickey will become ‘emeritus’ meaning he will be retired from office but will retain the title of Archbishop.

However, his retirement from office is not the same as retiring from a job out in the community such as from accounting or engineering, he noted.

“This position is not like that, I believe it is a call,” he said.

It is a call to follow Christ in sacred orders, he said, and it is one, which he expects to continue to carry out in the Archdiocese of Perth.

“I'll go wherever the need is, although I might do all those other things people suggest to me, the call still remains.

“With the strength that's remaining to me, and the energy that God might give to me, as long as that lasts, I'll try to respond to that call,” he said.