Cardinal Thomas Williams, Archbishop Emeritus of Wellington, celebrated
his diamond and ruby jubilees with the theme of thanksgiving and repentance.
The cardinal had an early celebration for his friends and families from Auckland and Hamilton on December 17 at the Carmelite Monastery in Royal Oak, Auckland and a later celebration in Waikanae, where he currently resides. December 20 marked his 40th anniversary as bishop
and 60 as a priest.
“Above all, I thank God for giving me a share in the priesthood of his Son, Jesus Christ,” he said at his jubilee homily in Auckland, “as I thank God for those in earlier years who formed me, and prepared me to respond to his call to priestly ministry”.
He expressed gratitude to his parents “who made huge sacrifices in nurturing my faith”, the Mercy and Marist Sisters and the Marist Fathers, the Catholic Youth Movement chaplains as well as his brother bishops, “especially Cardinal (John) Dew, who supported me and tolerated my eccentricities and enthusiasms”.
Cardinal Williams said that, having ordained 40 men to priesthood, he had
always emphasised in his ordination homilies “that priesthood has nothing
to do with power and privilege, but everything to do with sacrifice and service, seeking nothing for the priest himself but striving to please God, imitate Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, and commit himself unreservedly to his pastoral responsibilities”.
Each of those homilies was a kind of “examination of conscience” for himself.
“Alas, I have failed too frequently,” he said.Which was why, he said, repentance is a theme of his jubilees.
“I know that when I stand at heaven’s gate, which at close to 90 cannot be too far away, I won’t be able to appeal to any good conduct record. I won’t dare to say, ‘if you examine my credentials you will see that they are all in order’. I will be able to say simply, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’,” he said.
At the luncheon after the Mass, Cardinal Williams admitted he “heartily disliked” the different forms of address for prelates, which include “My Lord”, “Your Grace” and “Your Eminence”.
“. . .[I] hope they have been consigned to the domain of [the] historian and archivists. However, I can’t deny that what would now be most appropriate for me is a much more realistic alternative: Your Decrepitude,” he said, in response to the toast given by Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn.
Looking back over the years, Cardinal Williams noted some of highlights in
his life: his two ordination ceremonies, five years in Samoa, the Springbok Tour, the 1986 papal visit, the archdiocesan synods of 1988 and 1998, the Oceania Synod in Rome, the Church Leaders Social Justice Initiative, the consistories, the funeral of Pope St John Paul II, the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and the Launch Out Programme for forming lay pastoral leaders.
“Age has inevitably brought a deceleration. There are 22 members in the
College of Cardinals. I, along with two others, [am] the most senior by date of appointment . . . ,” he said. “By dint of regular breathing, we have outlived those made cardinal before us and, sad to say, scores appointed after us.”
At an earlier interview with NZ Catholic, Cardinal Williams said he’d seen
considerable changes in the Church.
“The degree to which New Zealand has become very, very secular is quite
alarming. I’m very grateful to God that, while all the Churches have declining membership, that the Catholic Church, which has now become the largest minority in New Zealand, has not declined to the same extent,” he said.
“I’m convinced that, despite the decrease in the number of priests, the Church is really in good hands. We have five remarkable bishops giving good leadership and we have the guidance of, and [an] inspiring leader in, Pope Francis,” he added.
Cardinal Williams expressed hope that the formation methods of the Young
Christian Workers movement, founded by Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cadijn, are brought back to youth ministry.
“It gave me my vocation. I wouldn’t have become a priest if had I not had the background in the formation in the Catholic youth movement. The basic aim of the movement was the formation of leaders for the mission of the Church. So, formation, leadership, mission,” he said.
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Cardinal Williams hesitated
before saying, “I don’t expect to be greatly remembered but . . . [I would like to be remembered as] a dedicated servant”.