On Friday 3 February at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a solemn Mass was celebrated for the repose of the soul of Cardinal George Pell AC, who served as seventh Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 until 2001. At an event that saw the Cathedral filled to capacity, Catholics from across the Archdiocese gathered to pray, mourn and commend him to Christ.

In his homily, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli pointed to the liturgical prayers that referred to the Cardinal as a ‘Christian soul’ and ‘brother George’, saying they ground us in the truth of Christ rather than the social status we might have in life.

Despite being a high-profile figure in the life of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Comensoli said, Cardinal Pell knew that ‘It is not by being a bishop that someone is made an inheritor of God’s kingdom and counted among the blessed.’

News of Cardinal Pell’s death on 10 January 2023 was unexpected, the result of complications following hip surgery. Aged 81, Cardinal Pell occupied a number of influential positions throughout his priestly service, including a time as eighth Archbishop of Sydney following his Melbourne appointment.

Outside of his episcopal role, he served the Church in a variety of ways, on countless councils and commissions, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the oldest departments of the Roman curia, and, significantly, as the Prefect to the then newly formed Secretariat of the Economy in 2014.

Cardinal Pell was responsible for bringing World Youth Day to Sydney in 2008—the largest gathering Australia has ever witnessed. Despite these high-profile works and positions, he was also a humble man of faith who engaged in works of charity often unknown and unrecognised by many.

‘In the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, in Sydney,’ Archbishop Comensoli explained, there is ‘an unassuming, ramshackle house of welcome, called David’s Place,’ which quietly meets ‘the spiritual and social needs of homeless and disadvantaged people, run by a handful of Christian volunteers, and it survives on donations.’

‘When Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Sydney, he used to visit David’s Place on roughly a monthly basis, celebrating a simple Mass in the loungeroom, and sharing a meal with those who had gathered,’ the Archbishop said. ‘He was generally known as “George” by those who came to David’s Place, and most of them wouldn’t have had a clue that he was a Cardinal Archbishop of some international renown. They knew him simply as a kind-hearted priest who came from time to time to be with them in Christian friendship.’

This habit of quiet charity, performed unannounced and without fanfare, was a trademark of Cardinal George Pell’s ministry, and not only in Sydney. ‘I have also come to suspect that the Cardinal probably did something similar here, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne, and possibly also during his time in Rome.’

Despite his official positions in the Church, Cardinal Pell lived out a deep truth of the Gospel: that ‘Life in God’s kingdom, and eternal life upon death, is not dependent on the role or status one might have within the Church. It depends, rather, on living one’s life as founded in Christ,’ Archbishop Comensoli said.

It is our service in the Gospel, no matter what our state or status, that matters … Discipleship, not designation; friendship in the Lord, not titles in his Church: that is the basis of our sure and certain hope in the resurrection.

This quiet ‘get-on-with-it’ attitude is the marker of true blessedness in Jesus’ eyes, he said, and we are all invited into this ‘friendship with Christ and with each other’.

‘Might this form the real list in our recognition of the legacy of George Pell. Bishop, Cardinal, a man of considerable power and authority, and a staunch defender of the faith—yes, to all of these things. But most particularly, let our list identify a son humble and contrite before God, a faithful servant of Christ’s people, and a true friend of the Lord’s.’

The congregation of close to 2000 people gathered in the forecourt following Mass, as musicians of the Neocatechumenal Way played vibrant and uplifting songs of praise. Archbishop Comensoli also took time to personally meet and speak with those quietly tying ribbons on the Cathedral fence.

The day before Melbourne’s Mass, the Archdiocese of Sydney celebrated a Pontifical Requiem Mass for George Cardinal Pell at St Mary’s Cathedral, where he was buried in the crypt alongside his predecessors.