Welcome to PlenaryPost
As 2020 draws towards its conclusion, it would have been hard to imagine 12 months ago how much our world — and our Plenary Council journey — would change in the subsequent year.
In a world without COVID-19, the first assembly would already have been held in Adelaide, and the important work in continuing the pilgrimage to the second assembly would have commenced. Instead, we saw the assemblies postponed by 12 months, and now the first assembly has moved to a new “multi-modal” format to ensure we can plan with confidence.
Despite the delays and the adjustments, the journey of the Plenary Council continues in a spirit of prayer, dialogue and discernment. This edition of PlenaryPost shares stories from near and far about the Council, including insights into the international significance of the Church in Australia treading this important and rare path.
Hope-filled preparation — for Christmas and for the Council
by Peter Gates
Greetings. It is a pleasure again to share a few moments of the journey of this Plenary Council with you. As I write I am aware of the progress of Advent and our anticipation of the Christmas event, the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.
It is a time of preparation and, I must admit, for me a time of hope-filled preparation. In some ways, it is not too dissimilar to the hope-filled preparation we are experiencing in this journey of the Plenary Council — though it is true that Advent is much, much shorter!
While we are approaching the end of Advent, this Plenary Council prayer resource has been shared throughout the country and might be a source of focus for your prayer in the coming days.
Pope Francis, in the recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “invites everyone to renewed hope, for hope ‘speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart … Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love … Hope is bold … and can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile’. Let us continue, then, to advance along the path of hope.”
This seems a beautiful expression of the hope we share for all people as we prepare for Christmas, and as we pray in the Plenary Council prayer for “a hope-filled future, that we may live the joy of the Gospel”.
Some of the preparations taking place at the moment include finalising the working document for the Plenary Council, known as the instrumentum laboris, and the statutes and regulatory norms that will help guide the proceedings of the assemblies.
By now you would have heard the significant news of the decision that the first assembly of the Plenary Council will not take place in Adelaide but rather will be a combination of online and face-to-face participation due to the ongoing uncertainty over restrictions on travel and gatherings. So the October 2021 assembly will be “multi-modal”. You can read more on that below.
I can also share that there will be extra delegates called to participate in the Plenary Council assemblies, after our request to the Vatican for the option to welcome more members of our Catholic community was granted (in part).
As this most unusual of years nears its conclusion, it is timely to offer thanks to so many who have, in one way or another, contributed in varied, unique and special ways to the Plenary Council. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to guide us all and leads us into a hope-filled future and, as Pope Francis says, “Let us continue, then, to advance along the path of hope”.
Our great thanks and wishes of blessings and peace for you and all your loved ones this Christmas.
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 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.
Synodality and Mission
The teaching of Scripture and Tradition show that synodality is an essential dimension of the Church. Through synodality, the Church reveals and configures herself as the pilgrim People of God and as the assembly convoked by the risen Lord…. Synodality is not simply a working procedure, but the particular form in which the Church lives and operates.
Synodality is lived out in the Church in the service of mission; she exists in order to evangelise. The whole People of God is an agent of the proclamation of the Gospel. Every baptised person is called to be a protagonist of mission since we are all missionary disciples. The Church is called, in synodal synergy, to activate the ministries and charisms present in her life and to listen to the voice of the Spirit, in order to discern the ways of evangelisation.
— From the International Theological Commission’s 2018 document Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church.
First assembly moves to “multi-modal” delivery
Ongoing uncertainty over travel restrictions and limits on gatherings have prompted the decision to hold the first assembly of the Plenary Council in a mix of online and face-to-face formats.
The decision was based on feedback from a number of groups, including the steering committee for the Council assemblies, the Plenary Council’s facilitation team and risk assessors.
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said while COVID-19 travel restrictions might be lifted by the time of the first assembly, ongoing social distancing requirements and questions around flight schedules and costs were concerns.
“In announcing earlier this year the postponement of the first assembly for 12 months, we were confident that by October 2021 restrictions in relation to travel and public gatherings would have largely disappeared,” he said.
“This now appears much less certain. Among other concerns, the Adelaide venue we had selected was unlikely to be able to host the gathering of more than 300 people due to social distancing requirements.”
Archbishop Costelloe said the bishops, during their recent biannual meeting, wrestled with the decision before conceding that the move to a multi-modal gathering was the only realistic option.
Fifteen people added to assembly numbers
With clear parameters in canon law around the number of people who “must” and “may” be called to a plenary council, the composition of the participants at the two assemblies of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia appeared to be straightforward.
Acknowledging the increasing collaboration between clergy, religious and laity in the life of the Church in Australia, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference petitioned the Holy See to grant a dispensation to allow additional delegates at the Council assemblies.
The Holy See approved a partial dispensation, which will allow another 15 people to attend the Council assemblies as full participants.
The additional delegates were chosen from the earlier list of nominees submitted by dioceses and drew people from diverse areas of the Church, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, migrant communities and new ecclesial movements.
The ongoing journey of discernment
Prayer, discernment and reflection were central to a recent gathering of Plenary Council delegates from the Archdiocese of Perth as they continue to prepare for the Council assemblies.
The two-hour session was facilitated by St John of God Health Care mission leader Tara Peters, pictured above, who also sits on the Archdiocese of Perth Plenary Council Strategy and Engagement Reference Group. It began with delegates sharing their experiences of personal and group discernment, before reflecting on Scriptural passages.
“Recognising that this is a newly formed group, this is one of many upcoming opportunities to come together as representatives of the Archdiocese, and participate in a shared discernment process with purpose and intentionality,” Ms Peters said.
During the session, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB spoke briefly about the need to listen in this process of discernment.
“A group discernment provides the wisdom of, in one sense, the whole Church … we need the wisdom of other people to listen to that openly,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“That is a key part of listening to the Holy Spirit.
“The wisdom of women, young people, men, old people, people of disability, anybody, we have restricted our listening too much in the past, and this is one thing that we discovered during the listening and dialogue session phase of the Plenary Council,” he added.
Dozens gather for Adelaide forum on synodality
More than 80 people from across parishes and other Catholic communities in the Archdiocese of Adelaide gathered recently for a session on the Plenary Council, an upcoming diocesan assembly and the concept of synodality.
Adelaide theologian Fr James McEvoy, from the Australian Catholic University, provided a presentation on “Synodality in practice”.
Drawing on the insights of Pope Francis, Fr McEvoy outlined the three phases of a synod or assembly: a preparatory phase, consulting the people of God on the concerns of the synod/assembly; the celebratory phase – the meeting itself; and the implementation phase, through which the synod/assembly’s conclusions are accepted by the wider Church.
“Each of these phases requires a participatory style – each is an act of discernment,” he said.
“Key to this process is the participants’ understanding that, as a diocese, we are a community journeying together and, therefore, can’t remake the Church from scratch, nor fulfil the ‘wish list’ that every person brings.”
Mary MacKillop and the Plenary Council
St Mary of the Cross MacKillop is one of two saints — the other being Our Lady Help of Christians — whose intercession is asked for in the Plenary Council prayer.
And one of the people helping continue Mary MacKillop’s legacy says Mary is someone who lived the life the Council’s themes envision.
“I think of the Plenary Council that we are going through as a Church in Australia and I have seen the themes for discernment. Mary MacKillop brought to life these themes in her work,” said Antoinette Mangion, coordinator of the Blacktown Josephite Companions group and a member of the NSW leadership team.
“She was missionary and evangelising. She was inclusive. She was humble, and steadfast, in the work she did. She was prayerful and Eucharistic. She brought people together in thanksgiving. She called the ‘Will of God’ her ‘Book of Life’. And she lived that story as true as she could.
“Again, Mary lived hundreds of years ago, but her story and the Plenary Council themes for discernment speak to each other so much. I can see that the themes we have been offered through Plenary are not new, but like Mary did, brought them to life as she responded to the world in which she lived.”
Ambassador: Pope is watching Australia
Pope Francis is closely following the Catholic Church in Australia, in part because of the upcoming Plenary Council, according to Australia’s new ambassador to the Holy See.
Chiara Porro took up her post in August and, in an interview with Parramatta Diocese’s Catholic Outlook, she said the Holy Father is “switched on to what is happening in Australia”.
One reason is because of the Church’s recent engagement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the ambassador said. She added that the Church in Australia is seen as dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse more effectively than some other countries.
But the Pope is also looking to the future.
“Pope Francis is now watching things like the Plenary Council and how the Australian Bishops Conference manages this point in time. He is seeing how they refocus and highlight all the good work done by the Catholic community in Australia,” says Ambassador Porro.
Click here to read more from Catholic Outlook.
Church events over the coming weeks
Sunday of the Word of God: With the international celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God falling on or near the Australia Day holiday, the Church in Australia decided to find another time in the calendar to mark the occasion. The Sunday of the Word of God will be celebrated on the first Sunday in February, starting on February 7, 2021. Click here for more information.
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