Welcome to PlenaryPost
Much of the focus for the Plenary Council so far has been on the primary question that the Council is considering: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” That is the first of three pieces of stimulus that people are invited to reflect upon when making a submission to the Council.
More than 21,000 voices have now contributed to this phase of the three-year process, and that number is growing quickly as more young people, families, priests and parishioners, school staff and students, agency leaders and staff, men and women working for the Church in dioceses and many other groups of people continue to listen to one another’s stories of their faith, God in their lives and their encounters with the Church.
Topics that are passionately and frequently raised include leadership and governance within the Church, the place and role of women, the importance of young people, the living tradition, liturgy and music, the priesthood and other vocations, inclusion and welcome, the sacramental life of the Church, ecology and creation, and social justice. The infographic below provides some insight into the current content and statistics of responses the Plenary Council team are receiving.
The stories and reflections that people are taking time to write down are truly inspirational. They reflect people’s joys and challenges, their hopes and fears, the deep faith of some and the wavering faith of others.
More stories and submissions will be shared over the coming months, with the Listening and Dialogue phase running until Ash Wednesday — March 6, 2019.
Integrity and courage to the fore in people’s stories, experiences
by Lana Turvey-Collins
These past weeks, I have travelled to the regional areas of the Bathurst Diocese and last weekend I accompanied the people of the Broken Bay Diocese as they held the first of two diocesan assemblies. The second is being held next Saturday, December 1.
No matter where I travel to around the country, and no matter whether I have been present or not, the 21,189 people who have engaged in this process of sharing stories, asking questions and deep reflection on what future God is calling us toward have been inspirational.
The integrity and courage that it takes each person to speak from their heart about their lived experiences of their faith, the place of God in their life and their engagement with the Church is something from which I have been able to draw strength.
As we move towards the end of the year and the season of Advent begins, it is an opportunity to stretch beyond our “Catholic circles” and seek out people who are part of the wider Australian community whom our Church exists to nourish and serve. The mission of our Church, and of this Plenary Council, is to bring about the Kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke.
Thank you to every person who continues to offer their passion, skills, time and prayers to this process. The members of the Facilitation Team are deeply grateful.
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…
Does my voice, my experience, sharing my story really matter?
Yes absolutely! Each of us is called as children of God to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to become a “synodal” Church – a Church of faith-filled people who speak boldly and with passion, and who listen deeply with an open and humble heart.
In his address to the Bishops of the world, Pope Francis explains the importance of listening, dialogue and prayer.
“A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realises that listening is more than simply hearing. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).”
Speaking boldly sounds good — but it doesn’t happen easily
by Fr Noel Connolly SSC, Plenary Council Facilitation Team
As we prepare for the Plenary Council 2020, we are being encouraged to speak boldly and to share what is in our hearts. One of my concerns is that I do not think it is easy to know what is deep in our hearts and it is even more difficult to express it adequately. Also speaking is an art, and it is learnt only with practice.
People who have not been encouraged to speak up for decades will probably speak clumsily, angrily or shallowly the first time around. It is only over time that we eventually learn what we most deeply want to say.
I suspect most of us do not know what we really want. We know our immediate, shallow and superficial desires, but most of the time we are too busy and distracted to recognise our deepest desires.
Prominent Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan believes that the voices of the “rusted-on” and the “cheesed-off” Catholics will have to be heard at the Plenary Council sessions if they are to be a genuine reflection of the Australian faithful.
Fr Brennan, the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, has called for changes to canons that prescribe the delegates at the Plenary Council sessions, saying the expectation that only a maximum of one-third of the participants can be lay people is unsatisfactory.
“What we need is a listening and inclusive Church — a Plenary Council at which the clergy and the laity have a proper place at the table, at which the voices of the ‘rusted-on’ and the ‘cheesed-off’ Catholics are heard and at which the bishops are respectfully listening as much as speaking,” he wrote in Eureka Street.
“What we need is a Plenary Council which is an expression of the Church at its best … and praying for a broken and complex world whose secularisation may well be a sign of the times in the best Vatican II sense.”
He concluded: “If the Plenary Council is to be a success, the deliberative votes of the bishops legislating new laws for the Australian Church in 2021 or at some assembly thereafter will be seen to be the hierarchical endorsement of the sensus fidelium expressed with hope and joy in 2020 and 2021.”
There’s a hope that the strong involvement of young Catholics in conversations about their faith and their future will carry over in their engagement with the Plenary Council 2020.
Malcolm Hart, the director of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Office for Youth, said “Wherever the Church turns at the moment, it’s talking about young people”.
Mr Hart was reflecting predominantly on the Year of Youth, an Australian initiative that comes to a conclusion this month, and the recent Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. Part of the international preparation for that Synod was a survey of young people. In Australia, more than 15,000 people aged 16-30 participated, giving insights that can help shape the Plenary Council agenda.
Schools, youth groups, youth ministry organisations, universities and other settings that attract young Catholics are also holding specific Listening and Dialogue encounters.
“The fact that the Plenary Council is asking the Church what it thinks and where it thinks the Church should go, as well as the international discussion around young people at the general synod that happened in October, has driven the promotion and engagement of young people in Australia as well,” Mr Hart told The Catholic Leader.
“It’s about partnering with them and learning from them in today’s new world.”
The director of the Catholic Church’s National Centre for Evangelisation has said the success of the Plenary Council will depend on people’s ability to focus on Jesus and to avoid descent into arguments and laundry lists of “wants”.
Shane Dwyer, writing in The Catholic Voice, said the anticipation for the Plenary Council grew during the Year of Grace in 2013, when the Church was invited to “Contemplate the Face of Christ”. He says that approach, if regained, will be of huge benefit to the Plenary Council.
Mr Dwyer, who has attended a number of Listening and Dialogue encounters, observed that gatherings that are grounded in prayer yield fruitful discussion, whereas in ones that see the prayer and silence components shortened or downplayed, discussion can be argumentative and people disillusioned with the Church are even more so afterwards.
Process is one of ‘listening and letting people have their say’
As the Listening and Dialogue process continues to roll out across the country, the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn is holding more sessions to hear from local communities.
Earlier this year, several gatherings were held in Canberra, and now other areas within the archdiocese are getting involved. Sessions were held in Goulburn last week, with others scheduled for other parts of the archdiocese in coming months.
Goulburn priest Fr Dermid McDermott said the session in Goulburn was looking at the primary question — “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time” — but would also consider other themes, including falling participation rates and perceptions of the Church.
“It is not an argumentative process but just listening and letting people have their say,” Fr McDermott said.
We want to hear from you
The Plenary Council team wants to share stories, images and video from around the country. Send content to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if you’re happy for us to share it with our community.
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