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People working in Church communications – for dioceses, religious orders, schools and other ministries – gathered in Queensland last week for a triennial conference with the theme “Communicating Hope and Trust”, taken from one of Pope Francis’ messages for World Communications Day.
Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins spoke of the process under way as being one of “Building Trust” and “Listening Hopefully”, the latter of which can be understood in more ways than one.
As the listening and dialogue process continues to spread its way across the country, the importance of listening, and listening with real hope, is becoming more evident. The effort to listen to one another and to hear what others are thinking and feeling can help each person to better understand their own stories and experiences and how they align with their fellow Catholic pilgrims.
by Lana Turvey-Collins
In a society and an environment of instant gratification, a 24-hour news cycle, 140-character text messages and click-bait headlines, asking everyone to create some time and space for a conversation about how we experience God in our lives, what hopes and dreams we have for our Australian society and how faith is an inspiration for that is something I realise is challenging, to say the least. But the more we continue this journey, the more I am convinced that it is essential.
During the week, we interact with tens or even hundreds of people. We have conversations and interactions about topics of varying levels of importance, but how often do we intentionally create time to be present to another person and listen deeply to the story that is being shared? How often do we delve deeper into their experience by asking questions, and then reflect on that experience and what it might mean together?
Listening deeply to a person’s story without the need to solve a problem or seek an immediate resolution is a habit that, if practised, can build relationships and, over time, rebuild trust. Trust borne of fledgling relationships can be foundational for hope, which can lead to faith. All of which is greatly needed for people in our communities throughout Australian society and, indeed, throughout the Church.
Last week at the Catholic Communications Congress in Brisbane, Archbishop Peter Comensoli said that the simple gesture of a handshake can be a first step to connecting with one another – a bridge that can build relationship and open a doorway to understanding one another and developing trust. This week, let’s see who we can reach out to shake hands with and what stories I might have the opportunity to listen to as a result.
We will address a new question in each e-newsletter. To catch up on previous editions, you can check out the Plenary Council FAQ page. If you have a question, email it to us and we will include it in future editions of PlenaryPost.
The question for today is…
Who attends the Plenary Council sessions?
“Plenary” refers to the Council being attended by all local churches that are in Australia. This means the geographical dioceses such as Brisbane Archdiocese, Lismore Diocese etc, as well as the other local churches, which include the Military Diocese, Eastern Church Eparchies and others of this nature. Altogether, Australia has 34 “local churches”.
The delegates of the Council sessions are leaders with particular roles in our local churches. These are outlined in canon law (c. 443) and fall into two categories: those who must be called, and those who can be called.
When we speak to each other, we can all learn
by Fr Noel Connolly SSC, Plenary Council Facilitation Team
Pope Benedict, shortly before he resigned, warned us that “the laity should not be considered as collaborators with the clergy, but as the people truly co-responsible for the life of the Church”.
Many lay people are freed and invigorated when they feel we clerics are genuinely listening and are inviting them to participate in an adult way. They love their Church and want to be involved and have their say. They have theological and pastoral insights that don’t occur to us, the clerics.
Pope Francis calls for a synodal Church in which people, bishops and the Bishop of Rome are all listening to each other and to the Spirit, realising that everyone has something to learn.
The Plenary Council provides us with an opportunity and a process to draw close to one another, to share our faith, our insights and our questions. If we can all learn to share vulnerably and fully – people, priests and bishops – that will help us to become a listening Church and help develop a culture of relatedness, freedom, co-responsibility and hope.
That will be a different Church and real cultural change.
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has just completed a series of meetings to inform locals about the Plenary Council process and the upcoming Diocesan Synod, which is due to take place in 2019 and 2021.
The 15 meetings, which ran between August 21 and September 9, have also served to train people to lead listening and dialogue encounters through the area. The Plenary Council’s listening and dialogue encounters, which nationally will help to shape the agenda for the Council, will also guide preparations for the Diocesan Synod.
“Animators will have a key role to play in, first, ensuring as many conversations as possible take place across the Diocesan community and, second, in helping maximise the number of people in our Diocese who participate in this extremely important process,” said Teresa Brierley, the diocesan director pastoral ministries.
“Feedback from these conversations will be recorded on the Plenary Council’s website to ensure our voices contribute to both the Plenary Council and the Diocesan Synod,” she added.
The director of pastoral planning in Parramatta Diocese has offered a reminder that the Plenary Council is designed to be a process of dialogue – and that means finding time to listen to one another.
Writing on Catholic Outlook, Richard McMahon said there can be a temptation to share one’s own stories and experiences in a response to the Plenary Council, but there is a call to consider the “us” in the question.
“While my current concerns are significant and should be voiced, what else is God speaking into my heart at this time?” Mr McMahon asked.
“Am I able to come to a place of stillness and contemplation, and listen with the ear of my heart to what the Spirit is saying in my life? And am I willing to share this experience with others?
“Plenary is an invitation to listen and to dialogue. After all, the plenary question is ‘what do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”’
Plenary Council on the road
Members of the Plenary Council Facilitation Team are criss-crossing the country attending gatherings large and small. Among the upcoming events they will attend are:
- September 10-14: National Council of Priests Convention, Canberra
- September 17: Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, Melbourne
- September 18-19: Plenary Council Executive Committee, Melbourne
September 25: Listening and Dialogue Encounter, Mantra Albury (click here for more details)
We want to hear from you
The Plenary Council team wants to share stories, images and video from around the country. Send content to email@example.com and let us know if you’re happy for us to share it with our community.
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