by CARDINAL JOHN DEW
In late January of this year, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis offering my resignation as Archbishop of Wellington. Bishops are required by canon law to offer their resignation when they turn 75 years of age. I had been told by a Vatican official last year that the letter should be written a few months before my resignation. It was accepted, and announced by Pope Francis on the day I turned 75. When that was announced, NZ Catholic put before me a number of questions, and asked me to write something of my reflections on priesthood and being a cardinal. It has been a good opportunity for me to reflect and, most importantly, to give thanks for 47 years of priesthood and many, many blessings.
One of the questions put to me was about how different the Archdiocese of Wellington is in 2023 compared to when I was ordained in 1976. There are naturally many differences; change is a constant in life, and the Church is no exception. One of the very big changes is that there are far fewer priests today than when I was ordained. Because of that, there is much more involvement of lay women and men in the Church today; that, of course, gives people the opportunity to live out what they were called to do at their baptism. It is baptism that enables us to be involved, active members in the Church. The appreciation of that is much higher today, and yet we still have a long way to go. Years ago, priests were seen as somehow more important than anyone else. We are not more important. We simply have different roles which come from our baptism, and the fact that we are called to lives of service as priests.
Other major changes for the archdiocese are that, only a few years after I was ordained, the Diocese of Palmerston North was established, which meant reorganisation within the two dioceses. In my time as archbishop, we have, of necessity, had to amalgamate parishes. We no longer had the priests to serve the number of parishes we had, and we could not afford to insure, or maintain, all the buildings in 52 parishes. While that has been a very challenging process, I also believe that it has been worthwhile, and has called many more of the baptised to serve, and to use their God-given talents in service of others, and to help our communities of faith to grow. Our parishes have also changed dramatically in their make-up, and have the opportunity for being richer, because of the fact that there are now Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Koreans, Samoans, Tongans, and many other nationalities. All of these people, their spirituality, their devotional practices, all add to the richness of our faith.
I was also asked about what taught me a significant lesson. In 2015, which was my first year as a cardinal, I was at a synod in Rome. Pope Francis gave a wonderful talk on synodality. In that talk, he said “the only authority we have is the authority of service”. That was very significant for me. It is not the title that we carry, it is not the clothes we wear that are important. It is rather to serve, and to try to be like Jesus who came “not to be served, but to serve”.
“What is my wish for the Church’s future?” I want all people to know that they belong, they are not just visitors to our parishes, they belong because they have the dignity of the daughters and sons of God. I want all people to be drawn to Jesus, to be fascinated by him, to be in love with him, to take some little time every day to reflect on something from the Gospels and, above all, to hear over and over again the invitation of Jesus – “Remain in my love”. (John 15:9). We have begun a fascinating journey of synodality. Pope Francis has spoken of how synodality is God’s plan for the Church into the future. My hope and my wish is that we all join in this great adventure of “journeying together, walking together” as we walk the way of Jesus, tell the truth of Jesus, and live the life of Jesus.
My life is a priest has been richly blessed. It has been a privilege to serve as a bishop and as a cardinal. When I became bishop in 1995, I was asked what my motto would be. I had no hesitation in saying that it would be words from the prophet Baruch, “Peace through Integrity”, words which were very significant for me in a 30-day retreat at the end of 1988. They are words which have ruled my life, and my hope is that they will always continue to do so.