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Advice to new Bombers fan bishop



I have to admit I was disappointed. I know we have to walk the road that God puts before us, even if it's not the road we want to see. Still, my heart fell a little when you announced you would be supporting Essendon, Archbishop Comensoli*.

Archbishop ComensoliEssendon? The team of drug cheats? The team of #standbyhird conspiracy theorists? Why would anyone want to support them? 

Actually you didn't announce you would be supporting Essendon. The announcement said Essendon would be your 'team of redemption'. Now that's an interesting turn of phrase. One might even say it's a redeeming one.

What does it mean to join a wounded, broken organisation in its pain? What does it mean to volunteer to take on some of the burden of that pain yourself? You could have joined the 100,000 members of the Richmond Football Club and enjoyed a few (perhaps fleeting) moments of success. You could have stood in solidarity with Melbourne Football Club supporters as they continue their 54-year-long vigil at the gates of the promised land.

You could have signed on with any of the smaller clubs, who would have loved the attention you brought. But you decided to stand with Essendon. Broken, wounded Essendon.

Now that the choice has been made (and you realise it's irrevocable don't you? Melburnians don't ever, ever change football clubs) might I offer you some advice? From one AFL fan to another: Sit with the people.

The corporate masters of the game are going to court you. The Essendon Football Club's administrators will offer you a special place in the stands, and invite you to their corporate events. The football media will try to seduce you, to publish your tips each week in the newspaper and join the laughs on the Front Bar. The AFL will try to get you to launch its latest new AFLXYZ game involving two footballs and four sets of goalposts, which they're sure will be a winner with the kids.


"You have the light of a new dawn to guide you and the freedom to choose how you're going to face the journey ahead. Sit with the people."


Ignore the masters who think they control the game. If Essendon is a broken, wounded club it's because they tried too hard to play the game of the corporate masters. They sought a corporate approach to manufacturing success, and when they were accused of breaking the rules they followed the corporate playbook — bringing in the lawyers and the PR experts and seeking to muddy the waters rather than opening up, repenting and providing restitution for their past failings. Sound familiar?

The corporate masters are, in reality, not masters at all. Following Australian Rules football is about loving the game, and you don't build love from a corporate box. So my advice to you, Archbishop Comensoli, now that you've chosen to be an Essendon supporter, is to sit among those who can teach you how to fall in love with the game.

Sit with the people.

Sit with the Essendon Cheer Squad, who had to watch their heroes fall and be hounded out of the game. Listen to their memories of past successes, and their dreams for the young players trying to rebuild their great club. Sit in the outer with the family who might get to one game a year, and see that it's far less about what's happening on the field than about the time it means together.

Catch a train to the game so you can see how it still has the power to bring families together, turn strangers into friends, and create an atmosphere of peace between even the bitterest of rivals. 

Feel the holy power of football and see that maybe, just maybe, there is a benevolent force who can bring joy and hope to even the most wounded and broken organisations.

We have to walk the road that God puts before us, and God has put a difficult road before you Archbishop Comensoli. But you have the light of a new dawn to guide you and the freedom to choose how you're going to face the journey ahead. 

Sit with the people.

*On 1 August 2018 the Australian Catholic Bishops tweeted of the new Archbishop of Melbourne: 'And in his final comments, @BishopComensoli makes the announcement many were waiting for: The AFL team of redemption is ... #Essendon @EssendonFC'



Michael McVeighMichael McVeigh is senior editor at Jesuit Communications, publishers of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, Archbishop Comensoli, Catholic Church, Essendon Football Club, AFL



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Existing comments

What a thoughtful, insightful article! I do hope that Archbishop Comensoli reads it and takes your wise advice to heart, Michael.

Elizabeth Harrington | 02 August 2018  

The AFL team of redemption. Great choice Archbishop Comensoli.

Pam | 02 August 2018  

When the Internet through social media allows any of the Catholic laity to craft in public what is essentially a petition to his or her bishop, there is no need to change the quasi-monarchies of the Catholic Church after Plenary 2020. In this constitutional system, technology has enhanced the duty of the subjects to advise and warn their rulers, for whom the corresponding duty to ensure safe arrival of the sheep at their spiritual home is owed to the judgement of God, an arc that is long, so long that it may be difficult for any single member of the laity to perceive, but bends towards justice.

Roy Chen Yee | 03 August 2018  

Very good thoughtful advice! Should help in getting in touch with the thinking of the people, the ‘sensus fidelium’.

Peter Johnstone | 03 August 2018  

The Phoenix is rising!

Patricia Taylor | 03 August 2018  

What a great Metaphor for the Catholic Church at this point in history. There is great advice here for the organisers of 2020!

Maureen Cleary | 03 August 2018  

Thoughtful, useful, engaging, charitable and hopeful - thank you, Michael. God speed, Archbishop Peter.

Denis Fitzgerald | 03 August 2018  

A very apt analogy, Michael (even though I support the Saints!)

John | 03 August 2018  

Sit with the people. Great advice, Michael, for the this "newbie" Essendon fan and for the Church in Melbourne who are barracking for him.

Rennie | 03 August 2018  

Sit with the people, please! the people of the Catholic church that is. we are hurt and shamed, and disappointed with the harm that has been done to individuals, and to us as a community. and it is only by sitting with, and listening to, that healing can take place, and the necessary action for this to be identified.

Helen Kane | 03 August 2018  

Michael, In what an amazing ?? way you have welcomed His Grace Archbishop Comensoli to Melbourne . “Sit with the people “ should be the mantra for the year. Pleasure to read your article .

Susan Vasnaik | 03 August 2018  

Sit with the people. As Bruce Dawe wrote: "In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice/like the voice of God booms from the stands/Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed." (Life-cycle)

Barry Breen | 03 August 2018  

Michael, your comments are witty, wise and warm - and I feel very confident that they will touch the heart of ++Peter, who displays similar qualities himself. There are, of course, people who will query the actual team selected, but in these ecumenical days, that discomfort will soon pass and opportunities for further union will be sought by all parties! The most important part is that in the choice between a corporate box and a seat with the hoi polloi, Pope Francis' bishops can make only one correct choice. May God bless the new Archbishop and the persecuted team of Essendon.

Dennis Sleigh | 03 August 2018  

Reconsider... North Melbourne is a closer walk!

Teresa Lincoln | 03 August 2018  

Be very wary, Archbishop Comensoli !!! In Victoria. AFL has the biggest of religious followings, outstripping all others in its weekly service attendances and regularly preaching its message in the public media with greater print and airtime coverage than all other religions put together. Its followers are blessed with the biggest Cathedral in the country and one of the biggest in the world where its people follow their rituals with delirious enthusiasm and great devotion, voices lifted to heaven in a litany of hymns sung by various sodalities wearing the insignia of their favourite gods and saints. This religion, unlike your adherence is multi-theistic with many God's. Gird your loins up in readiness for the battle to retain the faith !!

john frawley | 03 August 2018  

Thank you Michael for a well written piece. If any bishop or cleric seriously wants to listen to the people of God, they will stand, whether at cost to their careers and position, to demand that a true synodical system be put in place in every diocese/archdiocese. This will see elected lay representatives from every parish and faith community have a place at the decision-making table regarding church governance, parish management, transparency and other related shortcomings so clearly highlighted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Although we have the 2020 Plenary Council coming up, this is not a diocesan synod. A synod would occur say, every three years, with a General Synod of the whole Church in Australia every three years as well for example. This system would ensure that where we are as Church is constantly monitored, in order for us to move forward with society as it is at any given time. Such as system is pointed to in Vatican II’s document Lumen Gentium. If Archbishop Comensoli, and any other bishop is serious about redemption, he will strive to put such a synodical system in place in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and all A/dioceses in Australia. That way, we laity will be able to assist with living the faith in the reality of the society in which we live, and can assist the bishops in understanding this reality, which to date they seem incapable of doing. Such synodal systems are not hard, and have worked for centuries, as examplified in the Anglican and other denominations. Perhaps we can learn from them.

Thomas Amory | 03 August 2018  

Sit with the people, travel on public transport with them, laugh with them and cry with them. Then as Pope Francis has said you will smell like the shepherd who has been in contact with those you are called upon to shepherd. Great advice indeed!

Ern Azzopardi | 03 August 2018  

Nice one Mick, I share your disappointment in Abp Peter’s choice of the wrong colour sash, and love your advice!

Shezzatezza | 03 August 2018  

Peter Comensoli comes to the Archdiocese of Melbourne in very challenging times for the Catholic Church, both here and worldwide. The supplement scandal and associated problems at Essendon, which may have caused longterm physical and mental harm to players, is mirrored in the harm done to so many young men and children by the likes of former cardinal McCarrick, Gerard Ridsdale and so many others. In many cases, the faith of supporters of both the Bombers and the Church is broken, or, at very least, seriously impaired. It was not always so. The Essendon of years gone by boasted players of the character of the late, great Jack Clarke who were real role models. Likewise the Church has had numerous fine upstanding people from earliest colonial times, such as Bishop Polding, John Hubert Plunkett, Mary McKillop and others far too numerous to name. Neither the AFL nor the Church are, in themselves, bad institutions. They do, however, need urgent spring cleaning from top to bottom. You are quite correct, Michael, in advising the new archbishop not to lose the common touch. In both AFL and the Church the ordinary people are the solid backbone of things.

Edward Fido | 04 August 2018  

I hope our new Archbishop, and indeed, all our bishops, will be encouraged by the support and pastoral counsel evident in the posts here (irrespective of tribal affiliations!)

John | 05 August 2018  

Michael, what a great article and beautiful Melbournian way of welcoming the Archbishop to our Archdiocese...eh...#essendon.

Edwin | 09 August 2018  

Do I see the beginnings of a new Reformation or schism based on football codes? I'm a rugby league follower!

AURELIUS | 10 August 2018  

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