Kiwi bishop becomes an Aussie


One of Australia’s newest citizens is the auxiliary bishop of Sydney. He’s a New Zealander, born and bred.

But Bishop Richard Umbers has become incrementally Australian over the 33 years he’s been residing in the land across the Tasman.

He says he swapped Marmite for Vegemite a long time ago.

He won’t say if he’s an All Blacks or a Wallabies supporter … he has a boot in both camps.

ANZAC, you might say.

Important differences in taste and sport regardless, he was granted Australian citizenship at a ceremony at the Leichhardt Town Hall a fortnight ago.

Becoming an Aussie

“Today is the end of a very long road” he said after the ceremony.

When he was elected as a bishop back in 2016, Archbishop Denis Hart (who was then-president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference) told Umbers he had to become an Australian citizen.

“But between one thing and another you get busy as a bishop” Umbers says, explaining the eight-year delay.

“It would have been much simpler if I had acted on it when I was 20, but things have ended happily.”

The road from down under

Umbers was 20 and a member of Opus Dei when he arrived in Sydney in 1991 to embark on a Bachelor of Economics degree.

Five years later, he entered the Opus Dei Seminary of Cavabianca, Rome in 1996 and studied at Santa Croce Pontifical University there. He graduated as a Bachelor of Theology in 1999.

The bishop says he has formed many friendships with Aussies over the last three decades which still “run deep” today, even from those early university years.

“It is one of the things that has really grounded my life here” Umbers says.

“So it’s nice to feel at home both here and in New Zealand but I think it’s more the case—as Christians in general understand—that our homeland is in heaven.”

One of the things he appreciates about Australia is the size of the population.

“In the sheer scale in which things can be done, especially in Sydney, if you think about World Youth Day … you can bring together a lot of very talented people and so dreams really can become a reality.”

Another thing Umbers appreciates about Australia is the level of professionalism in the Church.

“Taking things to that next level of professionalism is something that you learn in Australia” he told the Catholic Weekly.


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