There are two locations on the Mediterranean Sea, one in the East and the other in the West, that face one another across the waters between Algeria and Italy. Muteci and Carinola by name, these two places were once dioceses with flourishing local faith communities. But alas, this is no longer the case (at least as Dioceses). These two locations have become ‘titular’ – or titled – dioceses, the designation given to a once existing local particular Church.

The Church never forgets her family heritage. Consequently, as of today, Bishops-elect Ashe and Ireland will be nominated the titular bishops of these two no longer existing dioceses, as they become auxiliary bishops for the very much existing Archdiocese of Melbourne. A Shepherd needs a flock; a bishop needs a diocese. This is a basic ecclesial principle of our Catholic faith.

However, as auxiliary bishops are not the chief shepherds of the diocese to which they are appointed, they are instead assigned a titular Diocese. Perhaps this might seem a little arcane. Nonetheless, it tells us something important about the ministry of a bishop: he is one who is sent to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as the apostles were sent.

This comes out in the Oath of Fidelity that Fr Martin and Mgr Tony took last Thursday, before me, and with their hand on the Bible. The Oath of Fidelity that a bishop takes is a serious moment – we make promises about fidelity to the primacy of the Pope, the promotion of communion in the Church; the protection and upholding of the deposit of faith; the care and solicitude of the clergy, religious and laity; and the good governance of the Church.

I would like to draw your attention especially to the last of the promises we make. It says:

I will recognise and promote the dignity of lay people and their proper role in the Church’s mission. And I will be especially concerned to promote missionary works aimed at the evangelisation of peoples.”

In among all the promises a bishop makes, it is striking that we are called back at the end to our deepest apostolic grace, to be courageous missionary disciples in proclaiming the name and saving life of Jesus Christ to all those who are open to hearing this joyful message. This, in the end, is the call of a bishop, as first witness to the Gospel; it is what Fr Martin and Mgr Tony are called to today, to live out faithfully in their lives.

How might they do this? We heard the shape of a bishop’s calling in our reading from Isaiah; a calling to which they are to lay down their lives with the greatest of love. To bring good news to the poor, to bind up broken and wounded hearts; to proclaim liberty to those found captive and freedom to those imprisoned; to comfort all who mourn.

In hearing again these words, I cannot help but think of the body of water that stretches between the two titular dioceses that our Bishops-elect have been assigned. It is the body of water where, since the beginning of this century so many fleeing refugees have drowned as they sought to escape their captivities. It is the body of water where people have looked out upon to either welcome or reject these poor and broken people.

In this image of such desperation and heartache, yet also of hope and longing, we have a symbol – a sacrament, if you like – of the call to proclaim the Gospel to those to whom we are to give our lives. It is to be a proclamation of liberty, healing and comfort, and the offer of life, gladness and praise.

For the bishops-elect, it will be their task now to bring this image from faraway locations into the nearness of our reality here in Melbourne. The Gospel of Jesus Christ rightly belongs here, to be heard among our people, in this location, at this time. And it is into this apostolic field that Bishops-elect Ashe and Ireland are now being sent as witnesses, even as they have lived and ministered here over many years.

Here, in these men of God, may the name and life of Jesus Christ find a firm foothold, that the Spirit of the Lord given to them today might flow out into the lives of God’s people.

Archbishop Comensoli delivered this homily at the episcopal ordination of Most Reverend Martin Ashe and Most Reverend Anthony Ireland.