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The month since the launch of the second phase of preparing for the Plenary Council – Listening and Discernment – has been a busy one on both sides of the world.
In Rome, the Australian bishops met with Pope Francis and other key Church leaders during their Ad Limina Apostolorum visit, with the Plenary Council front and centre in many of those conversations. A week-long retreat near Rome also focused on the bishops’ preparations for the Plenary Council.
Back at home, “snapshot” reports were being produced for each of the six National Themes for Discernment, with the first four now online at the Plenary Council website and the final two to be released over the next two weekends. They will precede the final national report on the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Council, which ran from May 2018 until March 2019.
Applications have also opened for people to sit on discernment and writing groups – one for each of the National Themes for Discernment. If you think you can help with that process or know someone who can, find out more on the Plenary Council website.
More information in all those areas, and others, can be found below.
The Journey to Listening and Discernment
Listening, to God’s voice is what carries the Council forward
by Lana Turvey-Collins
Three weeks ago, I accompanied the bishops of Australia to Ariccia where they came together for a week of prayer as they continued to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches and prepare for the Plenary Council. The retreat was directed by Br Ian Cribb, a Jesuit accomplished in the area of formation, prayer and discernment. The whole experience was a great gift, and something I believe will be beautifully fruitful for the Church in Australia.
This week I have returned to the office and we are focused on the recruitment of the chairs and members of the discernment and writing groups. You can find the application process and the role descriptions on the Plenary Council website.
You may notice the language change from “working groups” to now naming them as “discernment and writing groups”. This is because it is a way of making it clear what their task is and that the process of prayer and discernment is key for the groups and for this whole process. Every step we take together, we are all working to make sure we are listening to God’s voice and being guided by the Holy Spirit.
If you are interested in applying, please read through the information available on the website, and if you have questions please don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 02 9919 7822. Please also help us to spread the word and forward this information to anyone you know who might be interested or well suited for these important roles.
On a personal note, I would like to offer my deep gratitude to every person who pitched in, gave hours, skills and passion to continuing this work while I was away. One of the great privileges of my position is encountering so many wonderfully gifted and faith-filled people who are giving of themselves on this journey. Thank you all; you’re amazing.
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…
Why are we having a Plenary Council in 2020?
There are many reasons for having a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia. Those reasons include: Pope Francis has invited the local Church to dialogue; the contemporary society of Australia has changed significantly; and the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse has been a significant and influential event that requires deep consideration and response.
When the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference announced the decision to hold a Plenary Council, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said that “the Church is not the presence in our society it once was. We need to take a measure of that and make decisions accordingly. The culture in which we have to proclaim the Gospel is very different to what it was even 20 or 30 years ago.”
The Council is being held in 2020 in order to give the Catholic community in Australia time to listen, dialogue and discern with one another and, guided by the Holy Spirit, about the future, the role and relevance of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Discernment: ‘More than intelligence or common sense’
The second phase of the Plenary Council’s preparation stage – Listening and Discernment – began last month at Pentecost. A series of articles and videos to help explain discernment will be shared via PlenaryPost and social media in the coming weeks and month.
In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad in English), Pope Francis dedicates a section to discernment.
He writes: “How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense.
“It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
“The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good.
“Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.”
Discernment and writing group applications open
People interested in helping the Plenary Council proceed down the path of Listening and Discernment have until July 22 to apply to be chairs and members of six discernment and writing groups.
Following the opening phase of the Plenary Council, Listening and Dialogue, the views of more than 222,000 people were assessed, reflected upon and prayed about. From that process, six National Themes for Discernment emerged.
The themes invited people to consider how God is calling us to be a Christ-centred Church in Australia that is: Missionary and Evangelising; Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal; Prayerful and Eucharistic; Humble, Healing and Merciful; A Joyful, Hope-Filled and Servant Community; Open to Conversion, Renewal and Reform.
Six groups will now be formed – one each to focus on those National Themes for Discernment – to review the responses made during the Listening and Dialogue stage, including people’s questions and stories. The groups will also consider their relevant theme in light of Church teaching, of Church tradition, of Scripture and drawing from contemporary best practice within and outside the Church.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said while the groups will have an important role, including in writing thematic working papers, the broader Catholic community will also be invited to participate in the Listening and Discernment process.
“There will be opportunities for groups of people in parishes, schools, Catholic ministries, homes and other settings to also pray together, to reflect and seek to discern how we, the people of God in Australia, are being called to be a Christ-centred Church in those many critical areas,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
The Plenary Council has released the first four “snapshot” reports that provide an overview of the stories, questions and submissions received during the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Council.
By Sunday, July 21, all six reports will have been released to provide insights into each of the National Themes for Discernment. As well as excerpts from the almost 17,500 submissions received, the reports also include some of the topics that fit under each National Theme for Discernment – with many topics relating to multiple themes. A relevant Scripture quote and other explanatory material is also included.
The reports can be found on the theme pages on the Plenary Council website. The four reports already released are for the following National Themes for Discernment: Missionary and Evangelising; Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal; Prayerful and Eucharistic; Humble, Healing and Merciful.
The final national report on the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Plenary Council will be published at the end of July.
Bishops discuss Plenary Council at Vatican
The Plenary Council was a key topic for the Australian bishops during their recent visit Ad Limina Apostolorum, which included meetings with Pope Francis and key departments of the Holy See.
The bishops’ meeting with the Holy Father took place on June 24, and was a free-flowing conversation of almost two-and-a-half hours. A media release from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the Church’s hopes for the Plenary Council were expressed, and the bishops thanked Pope Francis for approving their request to hold the Council in 2020 and 2021.
The Plenary Council was discussed in several other meetings with the “dicasteries” of the Holy See, including the Congregation for Bishops, which has particular oversight for plenary councils.
The week before the Ad Limina, the bishops spent a week on retreat just outside Rome. The retreat had a particular focus on the Plenary Council, on the practice of discernment, on listening to the Holy Spirit and on the bishops’ important role at the Council sessions.
Mystery surrounds 1937 Plenary Council discovery
Why did a non-practising Anglican have a Catechism booklet from the last Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia in 1937? That’s still unclear, but the story certainly has people talking.
While sorting through his late father’s old handkerchief drawer, Brisbane man James Anderson came across a number of curious items — including the Plenary Council booklet. As he told The Catholic Leader, the booklet contains prayers, expectations for Catholics and questions and answers about the faith.
The booklet offered up a small number of clues to its origins, including the organisation that published it, but all those led to a dead end.
Mr Anderson told The Leader the discovery is “a great little carry-book for an everyday gentleperson, Christian Catholic”.
“It’s all very factual, it’s wonderful, it’s really great,” he said. “I’d love to try and reproduce this if we could.”
NZ Cardinal’s visit has Plenary Council flavour
When Cardinal John Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington, speaks in Parramatta next week, it is expected to help the diocese’s ongoing preparation for the Plenary Council.
Cardinal Dew, who will speak on “Servant leadership in the spirit of Pope Francis”, has led his archdiocese through two Synods in the past 15 years, including one in 2017. As with the Plenary Council under way in Australia, discernment was a key aspect of the Wellington Synods. The 2017 Synod led to a number of priorities and directions for the archdiocese, which takes in the lower North Island and upper South Island.
Earlier this year, members of the Plenary Council Facilitation Team met with Cardinal Dew to assess what lessons could be taken from the 2017 Synod, in particular, to guide the Plenary Council.
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