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Dedicated servant laid to rest

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Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was laid to rest on Wednesday in Adelaide, has been remembered as a man who lived his faith daily, worked tirelessly for the protection of children and the vulnerable, and who embraced the cross he was given.

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Nearly 200 people – the maximum allowed due to COVID restrictions – attended the Mass of Christian Burial which was held in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral this morning. More than 4000 people viewed the funeral on YouTube.

Principal Celebrant Archbishop Patrick O’Regan welcomed Archbishop Wilson’s family members from NSW, multi-faith and Government representatives and other invited guests to what was a moving and powerful tribute to the eighth Archbishop of Adelaide. Concelebrating were deacons, priests, and bishops from throughout the Archdiocese and interstate, as well as Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Melbourne Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.

During the service Papal Nuncio Adolfo Tito Yllana delivered a message of condolence from the Pope.

“Recalling the late Archbishop’s expertise in canon law, his contributions to the pastoral life of the Church in Australia, and his witness of Christian perseverance amid suffering, His Holiness prays that our heavenly Father may grant him the reward of his labours and welcome his soul into the peace and joy of his eternal Kingdom. To all who mourn Archbishop Wilson’s passing the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Risen Lord,” it read.

At Archbishop Wilson’s request, his coffin lay ‘in simplicity’ on the floor of the Cathedral in front of the altar. It was adorned with the white robe of baptism, a simple sheaf of wheat, a cross, the Book of the Gospels and an Easter candle at the head of the coffin, symbolising the Resurrection.

In his homily, Bishop Emeritus Greg O’Kelly SJ spoke from the heart about his friend’s priestly service which spanned over 45 years, and the difficulties he had faced in recent years.

Bishop O’Kelly said it had been a privilege to have worked with Archbishop Wilson as his Auxiliary Bishop, living in his house, then interacting with him as a brother bishop in a neighbouring diocese, working with him in the leadership of Caritas Australia, sharing many Bishops Conferences with him and finally being asked in “extraordinary circumstances” to step in as Administrator and assume his duties.

“I was able to witness his daily faithfulness in prayer, the hours he spent in his little chapel, morning and evening,” he said, adding the Archbishop was a prodigious reader, avid television viewer and storyteller at the dinner table.

“Philip lived his faith, he stated it in his homilies and it supported him, especially in these last times.”

Bishop O’Kelly said while these last years of new circumstances and illness affected him greatly, “there was never any word of self-pity at what had happened to him”.

“There was a quietness of persistence and a sense that he was in communion with the Christ of the Cross, not denying it and seeming to accept that he had to embrace the cross he was given, always sure that our most authentic response is to accept whatever God’s will is for us.

“One left his presence humbled by his lack of what for many other would have been outrage in the unjust events and illness that had overtaken him.”

Bishop O’Kelly said there were several features that defined Archbishop Wilson’s episcopacy.

“His love for the institutional Church and its leaders, his ability to forgive, his pastoral help towards individuals, and his desire to strengthen the protection of children and the vulnerable in Church institutions,” he said.

“He had real confidence in the Church and its leadership, frequently expressing his conviction about the Holy Spirit guiding it and the Holy Father. That conviction kept him unwavering in his support and confidence in and for the forthcoming Plenary Council… and whose origins were in Philip’s intervention in the Bishops Conference when he proposed, against opposition, that we embark on this course, to have the Church consider in representative solemn assembly what is its mission in the Australia of these times.

“Individuals in distress who approached Philip for pastoral care found him to be warm, compassionate and devoted to them. These were attributes he had difficulty in communicating publicly until recent years. It was a question of his style that changed as he became more involved with the parish renewal programs, spending whole days with the people of a parish, they opening up to him and he to them.

“Heads of other churches, and leaders of the Islamic and Jewish communities especially, appreciated all that Philip did to strengthen good relations on an interfaith basis.”

Bishop O’Kelly outlined other significant ventures achieved by Archbishop Wilson in Wollongong and Adelaide.

“Newly ordained as a bishop, Philip threw himself into the challenge of addressing the sexual abuse crises that were besetting the Wollongong diocese. He earned a title he was proud of, that of ‘the healing bishop’ for his handling of child-abuse scandals.

“When he left Wollongong the Mayor of the city said that he ‘played a leading role in restoring the credibility of the Catholic Church here’. This appraisal is so ironic when one contrasts it with the disgraceful and insulting treatment he was later to receive from the media here and elsewhere,” Bishop O’Kelly said.

“Philip would say, and all the bishops in Australia would agree, that despite what happened to him, and how his name was traduced, the Church must continue to do all it can to affirm and support survivors of abuse if it is to be faithful to its mission and must do all it can in human terms to ensure that such crimes do not occur again.”

Bishop O’Kelly said Philip’s vision and commitment saw the Adelaide Archdiocese becoming the first in Australia to establish a Child Protection Council, as well as a Police Check Unit.

At the conclusion of the service, a piper playing Amazing Grace led the coffin out of the Cathedral and a guard of honour formed along Wakefield Street. Archbishop Wilson was laid to rest in West Terrace Cemetery and in recognition of his love of military history, soil mixed with sand from a Gallipoli beach was sprinkled on to the coffin.

At the Vigil Mass on Tuesday evening, family and fellow priests took the opportunity to pay tribute to Archbishop Wilson, who died on January 17 at the age of 70.

Archbishop Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said while Philip did not serve as Bishop of Wollongong for long, he had made a lasting impact.

“His years in Wollongong weren’t many but they were tough; and because of what he did there he acquired a reputation of being compassionate, clear-sighted and determined in tackling abuse,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“He went to Wollongong just as the first Church protocols on sexual abuse were appearing in this country; and he became one of the trailblazers in shaping the Church’s response to abuse in Australia, which was why in 2002 he was invited to speak to the US Bishops Conference on these issues.”

Archbishop Coleridge said the appointment as Coadjutor Archbishop of Adelaide meant that Philip, “very much a NSW rugby man” had to shift football codes.

“He could hardly have been more different from Archbishop Len Faulkner who was very much an Adelaide man. Len was the insider, Philip the outsider. Some thought he was a right-wing plant, handpicked to undo all that Archbishop Faulkner had done in his years. That was never the case. Philip was no restorationist ideologue; he was a man of the centre, a pastoral pragmatist rather than some ideological warrior. Some who had hoped he’d turn Adelaide on its head were disappointed as the years told a different story.”

He added there was some surprise when Philip was elected president of the Bishops Conference, the first Archbishop of Adelaide to hold the position.

“But he was a fine president through difficult times, three times elected to the position. This was because Philip could unify a Conference in which there were tensions and disagreements. He could listen to all the voices, being both fair and firm. He had a strong sense of episcopal fraternity, often staying late to chat over a drink at night. And he knew his canon law.”

To read Bishop O’Kelly’s full homily go to www.adelaide.catholic.org.au

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