19 Apr 2021

St Mary’s Cathedral

Please be seated. Welcome to this Solemn Pontifical Funeral Mass for Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, Companion of the Order of Australia, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, President Emeritus of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, and Sostituto Emeritus of the Secretariat of State. Born in 1924, he studied in the Springwood and Manly seminaries, and was ordained priest in this cathedral church 72 years ago (on 23 July 1949). Fellow seminarian Edward Bede Clancy was ordained beside him, the Archbishop presiding was Norman Thomas Gilroy, the pastor of St Francis’ parish Haymarket, Monsignor James Darcy Freeman, was present with the other Sydney clergy, and the remain of Patrick Francis Moran lay beneath them. By a quirk of fate five of Australia’s seven Cardinals so far were together that day, with only Cardinals Knox and Pell absent!

Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy

Of all his exotic assignments, surely the strangest was to deepest, darkest Wagga Wagga diocese, where he did ordinary priests’ work. But after only a few years his intelligence and charm had marked him out for other tasks and he was sent to Rome in 1952 to undertake a doctorate in canon law and a diploma in diplomatic studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. His fate was then sealed! He was delegated to the apostolic nunciatures of India, then Ireland, El Salvador and Argentina. Ordained bishop in 1970, he was then appointed in turn as Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Taiwan, then to Bangladesh and Burma, to Lesotho and South Africa, and finally to the Netherlands. Then he began his high tasks in the Curia which made him the highest ranking Australian churchman up to that time. He was created Cardinal by St John Paul II in 1991.

His work in ecumenism and interfaith relations, especially with our Jewish brothers and sisters, is widely recognized: only last week, at a meeting of the religious leaders of this region, I heard from Protestant and Jewish leaders what a friend he was to them all. The Bible promises three score years and ten, or four for those who are strong (Ps 90:10), but His Eminence nearly got to five score, living and serving under nine popes and long demonstrating a virility and fitness unusual in one so old. He finally went to God within the eight-day-long feast of Easter. A man of immense charm and intellect, of deep faith in Christ and fidelity to the Church, he was a great encourager: as a young bishop I certainly received that from him myself.

I acknowledge His Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Most Rev. Adolfo Tito Yllana, who will preside at today’s funeral Mass; Most Rev. Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference; Most Rev. Brian Mascord, Bishop of Wollongong, who will preach the homily; several more bishops from around Australia; and many brother priests.

I especially welcome members of the Cassidy, Tracey, Gold and Lenson families, Paul Tracey his executor and Sr Kath Williams who long cared for him.

I salute Mr Khandker Masudul Alam, Consul-General of Bangladesh where Cardinal Cassidy served when it was a brand new country, and other members of the diplomatic and consular corps. I recognise the members of the Order of Malta, Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the orders of ecclesiastical honours present, leaders or representatives of various Church agencies, and other dignitaries. My friend Mr Jeremy Jones AM, of the Australia and Israel/Jewish Affairs Council, is one of those here representing the Jewish community. It is a tribute to the Cardinal and to the friendship between our two faith traditions that, rather than a Catholic hierarch, this Jewish leader penned today’s obituary in The Australian. Mr Jones wrote that Cardinal Cassidy’s legacy “included not just the hearts he touched, and the minds he changed, but the foundations he built for understanding and collaboration between all peoples, for the good of humanity. May his memory always be a blessing.”

In 2002, when Cardinal Cassidy retired after 52 years of active ministry, St. John Paul II wrote to him with these words:

I do not wish to let you go without acknowledging my profound personal gratitude to you for your exemplary priestly life, and in particular for the wonderful help you have given me during the years of my Pontificate…

I wish to thank you for all that you have achieved, not without great self-sacrifice, as a trusted partner in dialogue with the other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, as well as in the excellent work you have done in building relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism. How many other graces has the Lord granted his Church through your constant and effective cooperation!

My gratitude to you is both heartfelt and abiding. Now that you are returning to your place of birth, which you have always deeply loved and of which you are an admirable ambassador, you will often be in my prayers, just as I commend myself and my ministry to yours.

Echoing those words of praise and their promise of prayer, we now commend this faithful Christian soul, priest, bishop and cardinal, to that Lord whom he served so well, and ask that he be granted eternal life in the everlasting Easter of heaven.

I now invite Archbishop Yllana, representing the Holy Father Pope Francis, to conduct our Solemn Pontifical Mass of Christian Burial.