Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green is a unique bishop for a unique diocese the size of France. Source: Crux
If you ever find yourself driving along the solitary roads of Wilcannia-Forbes in New South Wales, you might run into a man driving a car with a camper-trailer, and his companion will be a fluffy little dog, Molly); there will also be the sound of bagpipes or country music blasting from the radio.
You have just come into contact with Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green.
The Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes is unique for many reasons, one of which is the fact that geographically speaking, it’s the largest diocese with neither a coastline nor a city with more than 20,000 people.
As large as it is, it’s far from being the most populous diocese in the world: There are 105,000 people in the region covered by Bishop Macbeth-Green, only 30,000 of whom are Catholics.
The bishop in charge of Wilcannia-Forbes is somewhat unique in that he belongs to the Pauline religious order. Of the more than 5,400 bishops the Catholic Church has only three from this order.
“When I joined a monastery from an order that doesn’t really have bishops, I thought I had escaped Wilcannia-Forbes, but turns out I didn’t!” Bishop Macbeth-Green says. “I was a full-time police chaplain running a Marian shrine. I had no qualifications, meaning, no degrees, I never worked at a chancery … So I think I got the job just because I was from the diocese!”
The fact that the bishop is from the region, he thinks, has helped him connect with his people, as he understands the challenges they face, from isolation to extreme weather conditions that can fluctuate from droughts to floods. There’s also the fact that “big faceless international corporations” continue to buy land, making family farms disappear, and since it’s a rural area, there’s no shortage of other economic challenges.
Having seen more than his fair share of pain working as a police chaplain, Bishop Macbeth-Green has a very particular sense of “quirky humour”.
“Life is too short … humour is of utter importance,” he said. “The problems of the world, the problems of the Church, they are many. But you cannot forget about the Joy of the Gospel. It’s not the Sadness of the Gospel!”