Welcome to PlenaryPost
With just over two weeks to go until the “Listening and Dialogue” phase of the Plenary Council concludes, momentum is still strong and people’s stories are being shared as frequently as ever.
Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins is collaborating with groups across the country to help them understand and engage with the process. This week, that will take Lana to Port Macquarie, for the Catholic Social Services Australia national conference, and Adelaide for the Council for Australian Catholic Women’s colloquium, among others.
With the latest data now out, more than 68,000 people have participated in the Listening and Dialogue phase. That multitude of stories and experiences will help shape the next phase – “Listening and Discernment” – and ultimately the agenda for the Plenary Council sessions in 2020 and 2021.
Plenary Council questions can break down barriers, open doors
by Lana Turvey-Collins
Today I have been sitting among a couple of hundred everyday heroes at the Catholic Social Services Australia national conference where Fr Frank Brennan SJ gave the opening address.
The theme of the conference is “Meeting the Unmet Need”, which was exemplified by ‘Fr D’ (Fr Leo Donnelly), an inspirational entrepreneur and wonderful collaborator as the parish priest of St Agnes’ Parish in Port Macquarie.
The room is filled with people from social services, education, health, aged and community care services – women and men who show up every day to care for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable people in communities all across Australia. In this room are thousands of stories of people being Christ in the world today through their lives, living out God’s mission every day.
A few people have written to me this week to express dissatisfaction with the ongoing request for people to share their stories of faith or God in their lives and of the Church.
Some think that it is “a feel-good” exercise without teeth or that it doesn’t address the issues or problems they feel are critical. I would suggest that sharing our stories with one another is the foundation we need for our future as the Catholic Church in Australia.
We are very good at listing “issues’ or telling others what “the problems” are – and this is important, but it doesn’t help us to understand one another.
I want to emphasise that everyone is invited to respond to three questions:
1. What do you think God is asking of us in Australia?
2. What questions do you have about the future of the Church that you would like the Council to consider?
3. What are your stories of your experience of faith, or of the Church in Australia, that you would like to share?
The first question is about casting a vision for what might be possible for our future, trying to connect with God’s voice in your heart. What do you think about for our future? What do you imagine? What could be possible for us all, with God? What are we being called to? It’s a challenging question because it asks each of us to stretch our imaginations beyond anything we have lived or experienced in the past.
The second question invites everyone to name the priority issues and topics for the future of the Church in Australia as part of Australian society.
The third question is an invitation to share stories, because the story gives context — a human encounter and lived reality to accompany any person’s responses to the first two questions. It helps others reading your response to understand a little more about you, giving insight to your sense of faith and your lived faith experience.
As a Church, if we are to “meet the unmet need”, then we cannot do this apart from one another. We must be connected, and this requires crossing borders, breaking through barriers and actively dismantling silos. Sharing stories is one of the best ways to connect with one another and then we can build upon the foundation of relationship and understanding.
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).”
Go to the Resources page and see how you and your local community can be involved.
To speak boldly, but also to listen humbly
by Fr Noel Connolly SSC, Plenary Council Facilitation Team
People have spoken boldly. It is the first Council for more than 80 years and the first at which the lay people have been invited to speak up as is their baptismal right. Now we are entering the second phase and the emphasis will be more on listening and discernment.
Pope Francis uses the word “listen” 31 times and the word “dialogue” 59 times in The Joy of the Gospel. Listening is key to discernment for Francis.
“We need to practise the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur.”
Youth Festival to lean on Plenary Council theme
When the young people of Australia gather for the fourth Australian Catholic Youth Festival this December, they will meditate on the Scripture verse that underpins the Plenary Council: “Listen to what the Spirit is saying.”
Perth will host the ACYF from December 8 to 10, promoting and engaging the life and voice of young Catholics, providing them with solid formation to live as followers of Christ.
Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, who is also the president of the Plenary Council, said the Youth Festival will be “a powerful experience of faith and discipleship and an opportunity that will bring much joy and hope to us all”.
One of the key Plenary Council figures in the Archdiocese of Brisbane says he has consistently seen great enthusiasm from Catholics who are participating in the process.
Troy Tornabene, assistant director of Evangelisation Brisbane, has attended about 20 Listening and Dialogue sessions. He said openness and engagement were evident in those gatherings and helped make them conducive to fruitful dialogue.
“I draw great strength and hope from seeing people gathered around tables, talking passionately about their faith and listening humbly to the personal stories shared,” he said.
Conference to ‘Stir the waters’ in Adelaide
The Plenary Council will be a central focus of this week’s “Stirring the Waters” colloquium, the triennial gathering of the Council for Australian Catholic Women. Members of the Council are pictured above.
Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins is among those who will give keynote addresses at the colloquium, but the Council’s underlying principles will be present throughout the gathering.
“The call to be a more inclusive and synodal Church will be discussed, and ideas about how this might happen in Australia will be shared,” said Andrea Dean, director of the Office for the Participation of Women, an agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
“The call to be a Church that is merciful and missionary will be similarly talked about – especially as representatives from groups on the margins of Church and society will be present.”
Process is one of ‘listening and letting people have their say’
The history of Plenary Councils in Australia
While it has been more than 80 years since the last Plenary Council in Australia, held in 1937, they are certainly not unknown in the Church’s history in this country.
In fact, the Plenary Council 2020 will be the fifth such gathering, although other significant meetings of Church leaders have been held over the past two centuries.
In one of a series of articles published in the February issue of The Record, the publication of the Archdiocese of Perth, there is a synopsis of the discussions and outcomes of previous Plenary Councils.
As an example, the article points out that the 1937 Council passed 685 decrees, “some along the same ecclesial grooves as before – a requirement to preach twice a year on the evils of bad reading and cinema, for example – but many others addressing the broader needs of the populace”.
A subsequent pastoral letter addressed the contribution of religious sisters to education, the importance of a just wage and the need for a social safety net for those who require welfare.
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