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The past couple of weeks have been bittersweet ones for the Plenary Council. On March 23, we announced the more than 250 delegates that have been called to the Plenary Council, providing a ray of good news in the midst of a Church and a country consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just two weeks later, the pandemic and the changes it has caused prompted the decision to postpone the first assembly of the Council, which has been scheduled for Adelaide this October.
There’s more information about both stories below, as well as news of the appointment of a new Archbishop of Adelaide – someone who has been a key Plenary Council advocate in his current diocese – and some historical and theological insights.
Entering into Holy Week in these unusual times
by Lana Turvey-Collins
Holy Week marks the beginning of my fourth week of working from home and I know many millions of Australians are making similar adjustments. I found the first week or so was a little bit of a relief and I treasured the slower pace, the lack of commute and the quiet of my home environment. But by the second week, I missed the social interaction of the daily office “hellos” and the background hum of chatter indicating other humans in my near vicinity.
The more time I have spent at home, the more reliant I have become on telephone calls, video chats and screens for connection, and for accessing information and updates on what’s going on in the world. In my very multicultural neighbourhood, there have been some incredible efforts made by the local council, the police, the various church communities and individual “good Samaritan” citizens to look after those who are housebound, those people who are sleeping rough and a number of other particularly vulnerable people we know are part of our local tapestry.
Over the four weeks of working from home, I have transitioned through relief, to exhaustion, to anxiety, to gratitude and found many moments of joy. Sometimes all in the space of a couple of hours! I know that my own experience is the shared experience of many.
I share these thoughts because I feel that this year, the “holiness” of Holy Week is such a visceral experience in a significantly changed society. There is a beautiful opportunity for all of us to challenge ourselves and be truly transformed by the Holy Spirit during the coming weeks and the Easter season. I encourage every person to seek the opportunities to respond to the Spirit, to reach out – driven by our faith – to be agents of hope.
The journey of the Plenary Council is about thinking, talking, praying and making decisions about the future for our Church. Our current context gives us much more to consider.
Postponing the first assembly will provide a little more time and space to do this and, this Easter, I encourage each person to spend some time in conversation and prayer about how we each are called to “love one another” and be disciples for the world in this change of era that is marked by COVID-19.
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 this edition is…
What are the National Themes for Discernment?
After the analysis was carried out on the submissions sent in from the Listening and Dialogue stage of the Plenary Council journey, the National Centre for Pastoral Research conducted qualitative analysis on these submissions to group them into categories that had similar aspects. After reflection and prayer, the six “National Themes for Discernment” emerged.
In looking at the National Themes for Discernment, for the next stage of the Plenary Council journey we are asking all Australians to communally discern how God is calling us to be a Christ-centred Church 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
People are encouraged to continue to consider, reflect on and discuss those themes from a local and national perspective as we move towards the Plenary Council assemblies.
Mary Magdalene: The Apostle of the Apostles
by Dr Debra Snoddy, Catholic Institute of Sydney
Mary Magdalene shows us what staying with Jesus means. It is about her dedicated “presence”, which allows her, in the end, to experience – to see – Jesus resurrected, thus becoming the “Bride of Christ”, a term the Church uses to represent our relationship to Christ.
Mary Magdalene is one of our best examples of how to live this out. Mary Magdalene becomes the voice of those in urban life who are caught in the myriad of troubles that life gives, urging them to find rest and new strength in Jesus. By holding Jesus and the other disciples as she did, Mary becomes the Apostle to the Apostles.
As we all journey to the Plenary Council, it is important that women continue to maintain an active presence as did Mary Magdalene – holding the precious truths of our faith secure and all the while spreading the Good News of Jesus risen and glorified.
More than 250 delegates called for Plenary Council
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has written to more than 250 other Catholics across the country, calling them as delegates for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
“At a time in our Church’s history we’ve not seen before, with the suspension of Masses across the country and around the world, the announcement of our Plenary Council delegates is a source of great joy for the People of God in Australia,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
Archbishop Costelloe explained how canon law describes the composition of delegates to any plenary council, saying that there are people who must be called and others who may be called.
Among those who may be called, who were chosen based on processes devised at the local level, almost all were lay people and about 65 per cent were women.
First assembly postponed due to COVID-19 concerns
Due to significant concerns over the ability of Plenary Council delegates and the wider Catholic community to prepare properly for the first assembly in October 2020, it has been postponed — with a new timeline to be considered next month.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said in a time of such upheaval, including severe restrictions on travel and group meetings, the postponement was unavoidable.
“Even though it is possible Australia may have moved through the worst of this health crisis by October, our capacity to adequately continue the process of discernment and formation – for everyone in the Church and in particular for the delegates – is severely compromised,” he said.
Archbishop Costelloe said the Church’s focus at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, is ensuring people continue to be cared for pastorally, spiritually and emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At its Plenary Meeting next month, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will review recommendations on the timing, location and sequencing of the two assemblies.
Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said work has already begun to consider how the changed timeline provides opportunities to embed the practices of dialogue, listening and communal discernment.
With Adelaide scheduled to host the first assembly of the Plenary Council, the Catholic Church has been waiting expectantly for the appointment of a new Archbishop of Adelaide.
Pope Francis made that announcement on March 19, naming Sale Bishop Patrick O’Regan the 12th Bishop — and ninth Archbishop — of Adelaide.
Archbishop-Designate O’Regan pointed to the Plenary Council as a pivotal moment in the life of the Church in Adelaide, which is still expected to host one of the Council’s assemblies, and in Australia.
“I look forward to playing my part alongside the people of the Archdiocese in welcoming to Adelaide the Church from right across Australia,” he said.
Due to the coronavirus travel restrictions, it is unclear when Archbishop-Designate O’Regan will take up his new appointment.
Plenary Council models a listening Church
A key lay leader in the Diocese of Parramatta has said the Plenary Council’s consultative focus was a “courageous move” from the Australian bishops, but draws upon a long history of the Church seeking input from a variety of sources at key moments in its history.
“From the earliest times in our Church, its members have gathered to debate and weigh significant decisions. In this case, over 220,000 Australians responded, offering a broad range of views,” Richard McMahon wrote on Catholic Outlook.
“Our bishops then strengthened the consultations by asking researchers to pool together key ideas and themes. People were given a second opportunity to offer advice. The question shifted to ‘How do we become a Christ-centred Church?’
“Our bishops made the choice not to consider all the feedback themselves. Instead, they have joined with lay women and men, and other clergy and religious, in ‘writing groups’ to help shape the agenda for the … Plenary Council … that will make some decisions on all that has been heard.”
Historian continues recap of previous Councils
The Church in Australia is currently on the journey towards the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia. So what happened at the earlier Councils?
Historian and missiologist Peter Wilkinson has written a series of articles on the previous Councils, including two articles on the Third Plenary Council, which ran from September 3-10 in 1905.
The articles have been published on the online forum Catholica, which also has an archive of the seven earlier articles Dr Wilkinson has written.
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PlenaryPost Edition 21
Eagle-eyed readers of PlenaryPost noticed the past two editions were number 20 and 22. The number 21 was skipped due to a technical error. We apologise for any confusion.
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