Welcome to PlenaryPost
With more than 5 million people ticking “Catholic” on the last Australian Census, the Plenary Council was always going to be ambitious in its efforts to connect with and hear from a large number of people.
At the end of September, the National Centre for Pastoral Research analysed the number of people who have been able to share their stories of life and faith with the Plenary Council. That number had smashed through the 10,000 mark, but as Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said, that’s a good start, but it is just a beginning in an effort to reach as many people as possible.
In recent weeks, the Plenary Council has continued to reach into many parts of the Church and the wider community. In Sydney, Lana met with members of the various Eastern Catholic Churches, helping ensure their participation in a journey that incorporates the breadth of Catholic worship and tradition. In Townsville, Bishop Tim Harris meet with almost 200 members of the business community, and in Melbourne, Fr Noel Connolly SSC, from the Facilitation Team, visited a parish that is taking local outreach to the next level.
You can read more about all those gatherings below.
How can you get involved in the Plenary Council?
All Saints’ Day calls us to strive for joy and happiness
by Lana Turvey-Collins
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, which Pope Francis has previously said is a beautiful day of celebrating the happiness and holiness of people living out their Baptism.
Pope Francis said that the thing he found in common among all the different saints was their evident joy and authentic happiness, borne of the knowledge of being deeply loved by God. He emphasises that the saints are blessed because they lived their lives in accordance with the Gospels – and in particular the Beatitudes – and reminded all of us that we are called to do this each day.
As I have travelled across the country, I have encountered many “saints-in-the-making” – wonderfully warm and welcoming smiles, people greeting me and going out of their way to ensure that I am collected from the airport, that the room is set up and the technology arranged. People who have accompanied me for days and driven many hundreds of kilometres to help spread the message of the Plenary Council and give people an opportunity to “Speak boldly and to listen with an open heart”. People who have been kind enough to make a cup of tea for me during the session break, who have taken time to ask after my family and given me a hug or a prayer and some encouragement. People who have courageously asked questions and challenged ideas, or written emails after we have met and shared a story of their experience of God in their life and their faith journey.
I am deeply grateful for every person. It is a privilege to continue to do this work and as we all continue to work together for the future of the Church, I know that God is asking much of us.
On this day of saints, my prayer is that each of us truly know the authentic happiness and joy that Pope Francis spoke of and that we are able to use each day as an opportunity to live out the Beatitudes in our own lives.
Peace be with you all,
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…
What are the steps of preparation toward the Plenary Council sessions?
A Plenary Council is held in three stages: preparation, celebration and implementation.
Preparation is what we are doing now and there are three steps during this stage. The first is Open Listening and Dialogue, which we began at Pentecost. This will continue to be the focus until Ash Wednesday (March 6) next year. During this time, all people are invited to share their stories and reflect on the question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”
The second step in our preparatory journey will commence after Easter in 2019. We will have discerned the emergent themes from all of the stories that have been shared during the Open Listening and Dialogue stage, and we will move into Dialogue and Discernment. It is a time to continue in the way of dialogue and to gather together to listen, pray, speak with one another and move forward – with focus – towards the future God is calling us to. We will be called to listen to what has been shared and reflect on this in light of the Gospels, Church teachings and good practice from inside and outside of the Church. In this way, we will continue to listen to the Spirit.
Thirdly, in early 2020, the draft Plenary Council papers written during the discernment stage will provide us with an opportunity for the final stage of preparation: Dialogue and Formation. Together, we will read and learn, speak with one another, reflect, take time to listen deeply to the emergent questions and themes, and continue to grapple with what future God is calling us toward. The stories expressing our sense of faith shared during the Open Listening and Dialogue stage will have shaped the program and the discernment of the Plenary Council.
These three steps of preparation will take us toward the celebration of the Plenary Council, which will begin with the first Council session in October 2020.
Realising the dream of Vatican II
by Fr Noel Connolly SSC, Plenary Council Facilitation Team
The bishops at Vatican II deliberately changed the order of chapters in their Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Instead of beginning “from the top”, with the hierarchy, they began with a chapter on “the People of God”.
That is what unites us. We – Pope, bishops, priests and laity – are all members of the people of God. In a people of God theology, the “ontological gap” between clergy and laity dissolves. Our unity comes from our sense of being the people of God on mission. Such a vision can nourish among us great enthusiasm and hope, energy and equality. We are collaborating in something much larger than ourselves: God’s life and mission in the world.
In the past year, since being appointed to the Plenary Council Facilitation Team, I returned to studying the history and theology of Vatican II. I am frequently surprised at the treasures it contains which we have yet to mine and develop.
Through our Plenary Council, we may make the dreams of Vatican II more real in Australia.
Listening to the Spirit: 10,000 voices and climbing
Momentum is building as the Church reaches the midway point of the Open Listening and Dialogue phase of preparations for the Plenary Council in 2020.
Facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins says hearing the voices of more than 10,000 Australians is a great start and she hopes that’s just the tip of the iceberg as the Church builds towards the Plenary Council sessions to be held in October 2020 and May 2021.
Since the launch of the Plenary Council’s Open Listening and Dialogue stage at Pentecost, individuals and groups – large and small – have shared their stories of life and faith. By the end of September, more than 10,000 individuals had contributed their responses.
“This is an encouraging sign of engagement and also a sign of hope about how open-hearted people are,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
A Parishes, dioceses, ministries, schools and other Catholic groups across Australia are coming up with creative ways to promote the Plenary Council and get people involved. One Melbourne parish has taken it to the streets, erecting billboards.
In an interview with Melbourne Catholic recently, members of the Sunbury parish’s Plenary Council committee spoke about their efforts to encourage participation in the Listening and Dialogue encounters.
The committee sent out 16,500 letters throughout surrounding suburbs and have installed large billboards in key areas encouraging people to take part and voice their thoughts on the Plenary Council website.
Additionally, the group set up email campaigns and surveys to encourage as many Sunbury community members as possible to have their say.
Townsville Bishop Tim Harris has called for local business leaders to help the Catholic Church discern the way forward by introducing them to the Plenary Council 2020 process in the inaugural “Bishop’s Breakfast”.
Bishop Harris, who used the gathering of 185 people to outline the major contribution the Church makes to the community through education, parish life and ministries, also encouraged those in attendance to consider how the Church continues to be that force for good.
“Mindful of where our Church is at present and the challenges it faces, what do you think the Church needs to hear at this critical juncture?,” he asked.
“The Bishops of Australia, of which I am one, also believe that together we are on a journey of listening to God by listening to one another, which means that if we are going to remain in ‘business’, then we need to be open to new ways for new times.
“As Bishop of this local Church of Townsville, I’ve been ‘listening’ since I arrived and in the midst of listening, I’ve also made decisions – I hope informed decisions – to ensure that things keep moving. The realities of this Diocese are becoming known to me and the fact that the Diocese is in ‘listening’ mode is being further assisted by the Plenary Council lead-up, which is all about ‘listening’ too.”
Townsville Representatives of several Eastern Catholic Churches have come together to learn about the Plenary Council process and expressed their desire to help their communities shape the future of the increasingly multicultural Catholic Church in Australia.
Members of the Maronite, Chaldean, Syriac, Melkite, Armenian and Coptic Catholic Churches were on hand at the recent meeting in western Sydney.
There was a recognition that translation of the Plenary Council documents into other languages, including Arabic, would be critical to the successful engagement of people from Eastern Catholic Churches. It was also important to find ways to reach people from those communities who might not be regular Mass attenders, the group agreed.
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Courier-Mail in Brisbane, Archbishop Mark Coleridge agreed that the Plenary Council 2020 could well bring about significant changes for the Catholic Church.
Among a number of topics, Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged that the issue of married priests might well find its way onto the agenda, which is being shaped by people own stories of faith and life.
“I won’t predict what will be on the agenda or what will be decided by the Plenary Council,” said Archbishop Coleridge, who has been one of the Council’s key drivers.
“I would rather allow that to emerge from the grassroots consultation.
“(A celibacy debate) is certainly possible – the ordination of tried and true married men, for instance.”
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