By Amanda Murthy
The people of God are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world – Catechism of the Catholic Church 897.
“Father Paul Pitzen always believed that we are all equal members of the body of Christ, and we are all called to find the best in everyone, in order to find our place at the banquet of the Lord.
“His commitment and perseverance was to ensure that everyone around the Perth Archdiocese had the access to fully participate and be the life of the Church.”
Those were the words of Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey when addressing the congregation during his homily at the funeral of Fr Pitzen, Chaplain for the Catholic Ministry for the Deaf and Hard Hearing, as well as founder of the Emmanuel Centre, who passed away on 20 October.
More than 600 members of the Perth community this week gathered to bid their final farewell and celebrate the many contributions shared by Fr Pitzen at St Mary’s Cathedral on 5 November at 10am.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Archbishop Hickey and presided by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, together with concelebrants Bishop Donald Sproxton, Fr Peter Whitely VG, Mgr Kevin Long, Fr Francisco Mascarenhas and several priests from across the Archdiocese. Frs Wilson Donizetti and Marcelo Parra Gonzalez served as MC.
Emeritus Archbishop Hickey extended his condolences to the family of Fr Pitzen, his colleagues at the Emmanuel Centre and the wider Perth community.
“Fr Pitzen was much loved and respected by the community since his arrival in 1970 – His source of inspiration for everything he did was the Holy Spirit, and I know he would sit down and reflect on the Scriptures – that was his spiritual nourishment,” Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said.
“We have to thank him for his energy and inspiration in being a true champion for the people, especially those with disabilities – Fr Pitzen and his team at the Emmanuel Centre went above and beyond to educate the agencies, Parishes and schools so that they can be inclusive to all,” he said.
“Fr Pitzen reflected the love of Christ, and many saw the face of Jesus through his work– We will all miss him dearly.”
Emmanuel Centre Coordinator Barbara Harris, who worked side by side with Fr Pitzen for 37 years, delivered a touching tribute, asking the congregation to pause for a moment and think about what their presence at the Mass meant, and how Fr Pitzen had made an impact in their lives.
“One of the things that I learned very early on from Fr Pitzen was not to judge a book by its cover. It was very important for him to get to know the people and he used to describe it as “just as you need to delve into a book, you need to take time to delve into the contents,” she said.
Barbara Harris said Fr Pitzen had a depth about his spirituality she admired, and he always respected all of God’s creation – echoing the ways of St Mary McKillop to ‘See a need and do something about it.’
“I remember one story where he couldn’t get an interpreter for a deaf person who needed to do a training course in cleaning. Unfortunately the course started at 6am – So instead, he went along and interpreted and gained another skill in how to clean properly,” she recalled.
“For Fr Pitzen, it didn’t matter what you wore, where you lived, how you spoke, or what religion you were. He accepted you because you were part of God’s creation. He met you where you were at.
“By his non-judgemental presence, Fr Pitzen helped people recognise that there was a God and God was interested in who they were. He made God real for so many people,” she added.
Barbara Harris added that Fr Pitzen supported the principles of restorative justice demonstrating how to address issues of conflict in all situations – One person winning an argument is not the answer he was looking for. Respectfully listening to one another in circles brought healing.
She ended her tribute by thanking God for giving the community a gift that was Fr Pitzen.