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Interview with Bishop Mark Coleridge soon after his ordination as Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Melbourne

You have been involved with Catholic Charismatic Renewal since the late 1970s. How important has Renewal been for you?

As I look back across nearly thirty years as a priest, one of the rich and unexpected streams of spiritual energy for me has been my contact with Charismatic Renewal. This happened in my first parish, with Claude and Miralda Lopez, Paul and Bernadette O’Hanlon and many others, particularly through the group sharing on that wonderful book by Frs Tom White and Des O’Donnell, The Renewal of Faith. It stirred deep things in me, and those deep things are still stirring all these years later.

That has been true even in these last five years that I have had in the Vatican. I said recently to a group of friends, “It is strange how some things that look to be footnotes at the start end up looking like the main theme,” because some of my marginal contacts in Rome when I was working in the Secretariat of State were among the richest graces of that time. One of them was my contact with the office of ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services), with Oreste and the team. I would say Mass for them every now and then, and got to know them socially, and we would have a meal together, and that was an enormously enriching thing, because in the Vatican you need some contact with the outside.

Also, there was my involvement with the Celebrate conference in England with Charles and Sue Whitehead. This is a conference that they have every year in the week after Easter. You get 1200 people from the length and breadth of England and from elsewhere. I found it to be enormously energising.

In general, then, looking back over my thirty years as a priest, one of the constant and most powerful sources of energy has been my contact with the Charismatic Renewal, and I think that this is true for many in the Church. This is something that I want to continue in my years as a bishop. That rich stream of energy I would like to surge in new and even more powerful ways.

I think that, very often, Catholics are like people who have a beautiful car in the garage, but there’s only one problem with the car — it’s a great car, but it can’t start. It is ignition that needs to happen. The question is how can we ignite people’s faith?

My experience is that the Charismatic Renewal is one of the ways in which many, many people have found their way to, and ignited, faith. Therefore, as a bishop, I will do anything that I can to encourage communities and movements in which there is this experience of the ignition of faith. Otherwise, all we’ve got is all these wonderful cars stuck in the garage, and going nowhere.

What will your priorities be as a bishop?

Bishop Mark ColeridgeOne of them is the whole field of education — to try and be a teacher as a bishop. I will do as much formal teaching as I can in the theological college and elsewhere. More generally, I intend to exercise a powerful teaching ministry, in part because that is what a bishop is intended to be — a teacher — but also because I recognise that teaching is probably the first of the gifts that God has given me, and therefore I feel obliged to offer that gift to the Church.

But it won’t just be in formal situations — I want to be wherever I can be to explain to people the beauty of the Church’s teaching and the power of the gospel, because very often what the Church has to say is made to seem negative. Well, I don’t think that what we have to say is at all negative. It is fantastically positive, and I want to help people to see the ‘splendour of truth,’ as the Holy Father puts it, the beauty of Christ’s teaching — this is the teaching, the truth — and it shows us how good and how wonderful human life can be. So I suppose that my first commitment would be to that teaching ministry of the bishop.

That means that I will take a very direct interest in our teaching institutions — our universities, our schools. It also means that I would be very happy to come as a teacher into prayer communities of the Charismatic Renewal to use my teaching gift in whatever way possible.

I think, too, that a large part of what I would want to do as a bishop is to encourage people in what are difficult times. Many people seem to be downhearted in what seem to be gloomy times, but I would like to help people to see that Christ is present in gloom. St Paul, writing to the Philippians from prison, which was no fun in those days, if it ever was fun, says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, ‘Rejoice.’” So, here’s Paul feeling full of joy in prison. Now we can feel a bit imprisoned at times, but that does not mean to say that joy is not possible.

To show people Jesus — that sounds so simple, but that, in a sense, is all that is necessary. Once you see Jesus, there is joy wherever you are and however you are.

I often think that it is like Peter walking across the waves towards Jesus. Jesus says, “Come to me.” As long as Peter is keeping his eyes on Jesus, he is fine. He skips across the waves. But as soon as he begins to feel the wind and the waves and takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink. Now, as a bishop, I would love, in any way that I can, to just help people to see Jesus, because the great cry of Christianity from the very first day was, “We have seen the Lord.” To help people to see the Lord in these times is my first, and in a sense, my last task as a bishop.

Once you see the Lord, you then hear the words he speaks — “Peace be with you.” That’s the first thing he says when he rises from the dead — I have seen the worst and you have nothing to fear. Once we can set fear aside, then joy becomes a possibility.

So, my priority is to work for, and to complete, the joy of God’s people. That would be very central to my work, and at the heart of that would be to complete the joy of the priests. As a bishop, I have a very special duty of care towards the priests, and I want to do anything I can to help the priests to be what Christ wants them to be and to try and help many of our brightest and best young people follow that same path — to hear the Lord’s call and to respond to it, in other words, to work for vocations.

The call of Christ is sometimes a most disconcerting thing, because he claims everything. But, once you say ‘Yes,’ you are richly rewarded in ways that you could not have imagined. It has all turned out so differently than when I was ordained in 1974, but it has turned out so much better than I could have planned for myself.

So, at this time when I begin my episcopal ministry, I just have this deep and quietly overflowing sense of gratitude for the way providence has, in one sense, ’trapped me,’ but has also freed me. Looking back, the working of God’s providence is wonderful to observe. It is so courteous and so discreet. Our freedom is always respected, but there is just this relentless and courteous nudging towards that which is good for us.

I hope to stay deep within those patterns of providence. People have said to me that it is a difficult time to be a bishop, but then I think that every time was; this time is no different. As Paul says, “He who has called you is faithful, and he will do it.” So I put my trust in Christ, fully aware of my own weaknesses and sin — I have got few illusions about that in middle age — quite confident that he will do it, and therefore very eager to get into the task that awaits me, whatever it might be.