Welcome to PlenaryPost
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, delegates from across Australia would be descending on Adelaide this weekend for the opening assembly of the Plenary Council. The pandemic has put people’s lives on hold in many ways, and the Council is no different.
With just 12 months to go until the rescheduled first assembly in October 2021, and with cautious optimism that the impacts of COVID-19 are abating, dioceses across the country are resuming their local engagement with the Plenary Council. As you’ll read below, Darwin Diocese has held the first commissioning of local delegates, with other dioceses set to follow suit starting from this weekend.
Read on for more news and updates of items of interest to the Plenary Council journey and the path of discernment.
Finding new life and hope — within us and beyond us
by Peter Gates
Spring Greetings! It is a time when nature can often be a wonderful inspiration of new life and hope — particularly with the local and international challenges so many people are facing at the moment. May this be your experience in the coming days: new life and hope.
I am especially mindful of this as I just had the pleasure of spending some time with Lana and her beautiful daughter and, as you can imagine, there is much new life and hope going on in that home. I did want to take the opportunity to share and pass on Lana’s thoughts and best wishes for you all and for the ongoing blessings that the Plenary Council journey may bring.
In the last edition of PlenaryPost, Marion wrote about her first few months since joining the Facilitation Team and the preparation of resources for the Plenary Council. I hope you have had the opportunity to engage with some of these resources. I would especially refer you to the Reflection Guide for responding to the thematic discernment papers and encourage your own prayerful discernment.
The working document for the Plenary Council, known as the instrumentum laboris, is beginning to take shape. The writing team is doing a mighty job as they faithfully engage with all the wisdom, insight and story so generously shared and, in so doing, “Listen to what the Spirit is saying”. This working document will be an important tool providing further opportunity and stimulus for communal discernment for not only the Council delegates but for us all.
In this edition you will read further about the commissioning ceremonies of the local delegates of the Plenary Council that will be celebrated across the country. It was originally planned for October 4, but due to the varied local circumstances around the country, many dioceses have decided to hold their commissioning ceremonies later this year or early in the coming year. It is a terrific opportunity to support the delegates as they begin to prepare for their important role in the Plenary Council journey. Please keep them in your prayers.
The month of October in many Catholic parishes, schools and communities here in Australia and around the world is a time of focus and celebration of mission. In his message for World Mission Sunday on October 18, Pope Francis encourages us to be witnesses of faith and action that manifests God’s love “that can touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures in every place and time”. This seems synonymous with the intent of the Plenary Council journey for as we listen to the Spirit, we learn how to be people of mission, participating in God’s mission for all of creation — a mission of hope and new life.
Please continue to be prayerful and gracious as we journey together as people of mission, humbly listening for what the Spirit is saying.
Much peace to you,
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 Council 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 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.
A Journey of Discernment
by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
From Archbishop Costelloe’s paper entitled A Journey of Discernment
As I reflect on the extraordinary level of engagement with the work of the Plenary Council so far, it seems very clear to me that there is a hunger for change in the Church. If Cardinal [John Henry] Newman is correct, this hunger is really a desire for the Spirit to be alive and active in the Church today.
It will be the task of the Plenary Council to discern which of the changes being called for in the Church really are legitimate developments and further “uncoverings” of the depths of the faith of the Church, and which instead are not in harmony with God’s intention in bringing the Church into being. This is a delicate and sensitive task, especially given the level of hope and expectation that the work of the Plenary Council has generated among the People of God in Australia.
The sincerity, the deep yearning and, yes, the pain and distress evident in so many of the contributions to the Council so far should not and must not be disregarded or minimised. The Spirit of God is undoubtedly speaking in and through these voices.
The invitation of the Plenary Council is to listen to what the Spirit is saying. The Council will be a success if we do indeed listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking in and to the Church over the last 2,000 years and remain faithful to our determination not to lose anything of the giftedness of the Spirit’s guidance over that time.
If we fail to do so then we will not be the Church that God has created and is calling us to be. We will not be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of those who have gone before us, and which we have received from them through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Commissioning of Council delegates commences
The Diocese of Darwin last night became the first local Church to commission their delegates for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, the first assembly of which will open in Adelaide in 12 months’ time.
Given the postponement of the Plenary Council assemblies by a year due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and public gatherings, it was proposed that dioceses consider commissioning their delegates on October 4, 2020 – the day the first assembly was due to commence.
Because restrictions remain in place in most parts of the country, a number of dioceses have chosen to delay the commissioning ceremonies until later this year or into next year.
With the Darwin Diocese due to host its Chrism Mass this week, though, it was decided that it was an opportune time for the Catholic community there to pray for their delegates.
Pope: Young people can teach us about synodality
Young Catholics are giving the Church a valuable lesson in the real meaning of “synodality”, Pope Francis has written in a new book of essays about youth ministry.
Pope Francis wrote the introduction for the book, which was produced by a Salesian priest who was a special secretary to the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.
Writing about young Catholics, Pope Francis said they “have asked us in a thousand ways to walk alongside them — not behind them or ahead of them, but at their side. Not over them or under them, but on their level”.
Some people, he said, think “the pressing call to discernment is a fad of this pontificate and it is destined to pass quickly”. But Pope Francis insisted the spiritual practice is essential today when things are changing quickly, many people are struggling and so many need to hear the Gospel.
Listening and dialogue are the key first steps, the Pope wrote.
“It is more necessary than ever today to enter into an honest listening to the joys and struggles of every member of the people of God, and especially of every young person.
“The Church as a whole still has a lot of work to do” in learning to listen, he said, “because too often, instead of being ‘experts in humanity’, we end up being considered rigid and incapable of listening.”
Deacons seek more support in Council submission
The National Association of Deacons has appealed to the bishops in every diocese to make a deep commitment to the permanent diaconate and to the promotion of vocations to the diaconate.
In a submission to the Plenary Council, the deacons noted that many Australian Catholics “know little about deacons and our ministry”.
“If there were a solid commitment to the diaconate and to the promotion of the diaconate and to vocations to the diaconate, the number of deacons in Australia could double or treble within the next 10 years,” the submission said.
“We share Pope Francis’ vision for diaconal ministry and a diaconal Church. We believe that deacons can do a great deal for evangelisation and renewal in our Church.
“We wonder why every diocese is not enthusiastically embracing the diaconate and promoting vocations to the diaconate.”
All deacons are based in a parish or Eucharistic community, but for many their primary ministry is in some area of poverty or other human need. Many deacons are chaplains in areas including hospitals, prisons and schools, and around the world, deacons work with migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.
Plenary Council, diocesan priorities find alignment
The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is using its diocesan synod and local submissions and discernment for the Plenary Council to help map its future.
In a series of articles on the “Five Foundations” of the diocese — Identity and Community, Worship and Prayer, Formation and Education, Mission and Outreach, and Leadership and Structure — director of pastoral ministries Teresa Brierley writes that key areas have been identified based on the local synod and the Plenary Council submissions that came from Maitland-Newcastle. Some of the principles from the diocese’s 1992-93 synod are also being drawn on to shape today’s reflections.
Focus groups are now working on the proposals and recommendations that will be presented to the diocesan faithful before the next session of the diocesan synod.
Pope Francis set to release new encyclical
Pope Francis’ third encyclical, which is expected to focus on human fraternity and friendship, will be released this weekend on the feast day of his namesake — St Francis of Assisi.
The Pope will celebrate Mass at the tomb of St Francis on October 3 and sign the document that afternoon, before it is released the following day.
Because of ongoing concerns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass and the rest of the Pope’s visit will be private, the Vatican press office said.
The encyclical is expected to echo many of the themes Pope Francis has been discussing in his general audience talks on Catholic social teaching in light of the pandemic: human fraternity, the equal dignity of all people, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods and the obligation of solidarity. Care for the environment and the virtue of peacemaking also are expected to be part of the encyclical.
Church events over the coming weeks
October 4: October 4 was set to be the opening day of the first assembly of the Plenary Council. To mark that day — and the one-year countdown to the rescheduled assembly — keep an eye on local events, including commissioning ceremonies in some dioceses. A new video will also be released, along with other resources.
Mission Sunday: Mission Sunday will be celebrated on October 18. In his message for the occasion, released earlier this year, Pope Francis wrote: “Mission is a free and conscious response to God’s call. Yet we discern this call only when we have a personal relationship of love with Jesus present in his Church. Let us ask ourselves: are we prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to the call to mission, whether in our life as married couples or as consecrated persons or those called to the ordained ministry, and in all the everyday events of life?” Click here to read the full message.
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