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Archbishop Coleridge: Benedict's first Australian appointment
Fr Mark Benedict Coleridge, 57, was named the Archbishop of Canberra- Goulburn on 19 June 2006. This marks Benedict XVI's first episcopal appointment in Australia.
The appointment has been well received from all quarters of the Church in Australia with Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide commenting that his "wonderful intellect, talents and experience will be very valuable in his ministry".
Of his plans for the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, Archbishop Coleridge has named three areas for particular attention: unifying the diocese, supporting politicians and helping to revive Australia's ethical base. He has shown himself already to be a confident and accomplished media performer which will no doubt be a great asset for him in achieving his aims for the archdiocese.
Archbishop Coleridge is well known in Melbourne and recognised as an intelligent, articulate servant of God. Despite his success, he has managed to avoid being pigeon-holed by commentators as a radical or conservative, although he concedes that ecclesiastically he would fit into the conservative category.
The new Archbishop is a respected biblical scholar with a Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Biblicum in Rome. He also studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem and later lectured at the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne from 1991-1997, where he was Master of the College from 1996-1997.
The Archbishop has already played a large part in the liturgy of the Church in Australia and is likely to make an even larger contribution in coming years. He was a member of the advisory committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy from 1995-1997 and elected a member of the Australian Bishops' Committee for Liturgy in 2002 and Secretary in 2003. In 2004, he was appointed chairman of the Roman Missal Editorial Committee while, starting this year, he has chaired the International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary and the Australian Bishops' Commission for Liturgy.
Mark Coleridge was ordained to the priesthood on 18 May 1974, after completing a BA at Melbourne University. After ordination, he served at parishes in East St Kilda, Drysdale, Doncaster East, Ashburton and Pascoe Vale. In 1980 he left parish ministry to undertake higher studies in Rome and Jerusalem.
In 1994, he was appointed spokesman for the Archdiocese of Melbourne and in 1995 the President of the Fellowship of Biblical Studies. He is the Founding President of the Forum of Australian Catholic Institutes of Theology.
In 1998, he was called to the Vatican to work in the Secretariat of State, where he had regular contact with John Paul II. On his return to Australia, he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop on 19 June 2002. In practical terms this meant that he oversaw about 70 parishes in Melbourne's western suburbs. He was also appointed the Episcopal Vicar of Education and over the past few years has given support to the work of Catholic university students.
The Archdiocese of Canberra- Goulburn, which includes the NSW western plains through to the southern NSW coast, as well as Canberra and Goulburn, is very diverse ranging from small country towns to the hustle and bustle of the nation's capital.
Archbishop Coleridge is a self- confessed "city slicker" admitting there is a lot of work ahead in order to know and understand the problems of rural Australia. "That's going to take some learning," he says, but he is confident God will guide him: "All I have ever done as a priest was what I have been asked to do. If you just do that, at least in the priestly life, things turn out much better than anything you could plot or plan."
He also wants to be a shepherd to the wider community, not just "tend to the Catholic flock". He is aware and concerned about the pragmatism within the Australian culture and aims to address it. As he remarks, "It's not enough to indulge in pragmatism that adopts the approach of 'whatever works' or "whatever it takes' as an ethical basis for public life ... The Australian ethos and culture tend to be pragmatic, but sheer pragmatism can give way to cynicism. Once that happens, the ethical base deteriorates quickly and while we are not at that point we should beware".
Living in the nation's capital he has wisely chosen to support Australia's politicians in their work. "I'm not going to stick the boot into the politicians", he says. "Politics is a noble calling. I want to support and help politicians to do their best in their noble calling at a time when it's not easy to be a politician. At times it would be to speak a word that is critical, but it would be to help them". He has indicated he does not anticipate a quiet life, remarking that "a large part of my work in Canberra will be to try to stir up some energy".
Archbishop Coleridge is well aware of the challenges he will face in his new role but also of where the support he needs will come from: "The only thing I have as a bishop is Jesus. It sounds a bit blunt; it's not a question of my own insight, wisdom and brilliance. The power that Jesus has can bring strength from weakness, light from darkness and life from death. I have to go wherever there is weakness, darkness and death with the faith that out of them will come strength, light and life."
Anh Nguyen is an organiser with the Thomas More Centre, North Melbourne.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 19 No 7 (August 2006), p. 7
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