Welcome to PlenaryPost
There are just 219 days until the opening of the first assembly of the Plenary Council. And while there is a sense of deja vu about that, with significant preparations taking place early last year before the assemblies were delayed by 12 months, there’s also renewed energy — some of which is captured in the stories below.
As you will read, another milestone has been reached, with today’s release of Continuing the Journey, the working document — or instrumentum laboris — for the Plenary Council. The document draws from the richness of the voices of the People of God, captured during the Listening and Dialogue and Listening and Discernment phases, as well as papal writings, bishops’ statements and key documents from within and beyond Church to inform the Plenary Council journey.
In addition to the document itself, a new podcast series featuring interviews with those on the writing team for Continuing the Journey and a reflection guide might be helpful. The reflection guide, which is a continuation of the guides at other stages of this journey, invites people to pray and discern with the document individually or in small groups. Our journey is national, but the local reflection has proven to be a source of great fruit.
There’s much more to read about below. Keep an eye out for future editions of PlenaryPost on the last Thursday of each month through 2021. Send suggestions on local content that can be included to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuing the Journey — in more ways than one
by Lana Turvey-Collins
I am delighted to be writing to you all again now that I have returned from maternity leave. I want to wholeheartedly thank Peter, Marion and Olivia who, together with a cast of hundreds, have continued the work of the Plenary Council journey in my absence.
One of the great accomplishments is that the working document for the Plenary Council (instrumentum laboris) has been written and is now published! It is a significant step from my perspective, because I feel that it indicates an increasing “readiness” looking towards the Council assemblies.
It is important to read the working document, entitled Continuing the Journey, in light of the previously published listening and dialogue and thematic discernment papers, which have led us to this point. We understand that we are on a journey and each time people work together to write something for the Plenary Council it moves the journey forward, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
While I was on leave, an important report on governance – Light from the Southern Cross – and the bishops’ response were published, as was Pope Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli Tutti. They provide important context and nourishment for the Church in Australia too.
It is also essential to reflect on the new and emerging reality of post-COVID life. I find myself asking: how am I now called to live the Gospel? What is the one thing I can do today as a follower of Christ that will help to build God’s Kingdom? Some days the answer is as simple as cuddling my daughter or calling someone who I know might be lonely in the COVID society in which we now are living.
In seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance for the missionary journey of the Church in Australia toward the Plenary Council, we continue to focus on living the joy of the Gospel and are challenged in doing this within the highly changed circumstances so many thousands are now facing in this COVID era.
Another major area of the Facilitation Team’s work is creating a plan for a “multi-modal” assembly in October 2021, which will combine both online and in-person elements in a COVID-safe manner. The content for the agenda will be drawn from the working document and is something we will communicate about in coming PlenaryPost editions.
The process will be guided by the requirements of the Council’s statutes and regulatory norms, though fundamentally it will be a process of prayerful discernment facilitated by a team of people with expertise in spiritual conversations, contemplative dialogue and communal discernment. This team is working together on this (somewhat) complex task.
I look forward to reconnecting with you all over the coming weeks and months. As always, please reach out to us here at the Facilitation Team if we can be of any assistance in your dialogue and discernment with your local faith community.
Yours in mission,
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…
Why are we having a Plenary Council?
There are many reasons for having a Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia: 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 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 journey is taking place over several years 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.
Dialogue in the modern age
From Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti
Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue”. If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue.
There is no need for me to stress the benefits of dialogue. I have only to think of what our world would be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together. Unlike disagreement and conflict, persistent and courageous dialogue does not make headlines, but quietly helps the world to live much better than we imagine.
Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable. These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone. But monologues engage no one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory.
Working document released for Council journey
A multitude of voices, including those of the People of God in Australia, popes, bishops and experts within and beyond the Church have been brought together to create the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
Released today, Continuing the Journey is seen as a catalyst for the Church in Australia to renew its path towards and beyond the Plenary Council — a path that has been disrupted by COVID-19.
“This is an exciting step forward and we take it together, amidst a time of great change. More than 220,000 people participated in the first stages of Listening and Dialogue, and those voices can be heard clearly in the working document,” said Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, president of the Plenary Council.
“As writers, we drew inspiration from Scripture, writings and teachings of the Church including the documents of the Second Vatican Council, encyclicals and papal exhortations, Australian bishops’ pastoral letters and more.
“The abundance of wisdom in the writings of our rich tradition, together with the papers of the Plenary Council discernment thus far, provided an incredible foundation for the content of this working document.”
In addition to the document itself, a reflection guide has been developed to support local engagement with the instrumentum laboris, as has been done at earlier stages in the journey.
“A document has the most value when it is brought to life through dialogue and response,” Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said.
“In this particular time of changing norms in society and the emerging reality of post-COVID life, it is increasingly important to have as many faith communities, groups, agencies and individuals participate in this continued discernment as possible.
“Every single person is needed for God’s mission today.”
Statutes, norms will support discernment process
The Bishops Conference recently approved the statutes and regulatory norms that will help the Church in Australia to prepare for and journey through the Council assemblies.
The statutes and regulatory norms are outlined in three chapters:
- Nature and Purpose, Convocation, Conduct and Composition;
- Officers and Entities of the Plenary Council;
- Work of the Plenary Council.
Drawing upon canon law, the statutes and regulatory norms outline the fundamental purpose of a plenary council: First, what seems opportune for an increase of faith; Second, for the ordering of common pastoral action; and Third, for the direction of morals and for the preservation, introduction, and defence of a common ecclesiastical discipline.
Young people have ‘deep yearning for Christ’
The youngest Plenary Council attendee from the Archdiocese of Sydney at just 27, Chris Lee says he hopes to help ensure the voice of young people is heard at the Council assemblies.
Mr Lee, who works in youth ministry, said he often sees and hears a “deep yearning for Christ” among the people with whom he engages.
“Many are starting to realise that a lot of the desires of their heart will never be met by what society offers, but that Christ is the only one who can fulfil them,” he said.
“I thought I would have something to offer as a representative [of young people]. To be able to tell their stories and to share the teachings of the Church to help them live out fully who they are through Christ is a hugely powerful experience. I want to affirm that.”
Mr Lee was among the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Plenary Council delegates to be commissioned recently.
Holy Spirit at work in aged care facility
What started as a somewhat commonplace ritual of someone bringing Holy Communion to a person who couldn’t attend Mass has blossomed into a friendship that has the Plenary Council as one of its foundations.
As The Southern Cross explains, the initial encounter late last year included a discussion of shared experiences and interests. It has evolved to take in deep exchanges about faith — including in reflections on the Plenary Council papers.
Graham Spurling, who brought Communion to 98-year-old Milton Howard, said he saw Mr Howard’s “sharp intellect” and invited him to review one of the papers on the national themes for discernment.
“We haven’t listened to people like him (Milton),” Mr Spurling said. “The Holy Spirit is working in this man.”
Parramatta commissions its Council members
The Diocese of Parramatta has come together to witness the commissioning of the nine people from western Sydney and the Blue Mountains who will attend the Council’s assemblies.
During the liturgy, held just before Christmas, delegates were presented with candles that had been lit from the Plenary Council candle, serving as a sign of the Holy Spirit at the centre of their journey. While appointed from their respective dioceses, each person attending the Council assemblies is called to represent all Catholics in Australia.
Padmi Pathinather, the chair of the diocesan pastoral council, led the commissioning liturgy, assuring the future members of the Plenary Council of the prayers of their local community.
“May God be present to you as the spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love as we support each other on our journey of faith,” she said.
Church mourns death of Australian bishops
The Church in Australia lost three of its bishops in a one-month period recently, with Archbishop Philip Wilson, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Bishop Luc Matthys all passing away in December or January.
Archbishop Wilson (pictured above), who served as Bishop of Wollongong and later Archbishop of Adelaide, was one of the key drivers of the Plenary Council.
As current Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge explained in words of remembrance at one of many Masses celebrated after Archbishop Wilson’s death: “It was he who first suggested in the early 2000s that the time had come in Australia for some kind of national ecclesial assembly. Not all the bishops agreed, but Philip had sown the seed of what became eventually the decision to move to a Plenary Council. One sadness I feel as we bid farewell is that Philip didn’t live to see the assemblies of the Council and their fruit in the life of the Church.”
Bishop Matthys served as the Bishop of Armidale from 1999-2011. Bishop Robinson, who was an Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney for many years, is best known for his work in addressing the horrors of clerical sexual abuse.
Pope calls national synod for Italian Church
In a move that some are viewing as a message to other countries, Pope Francis has called for the Church in Italy to hold a national synod.
Speaking to a group of catechists recently, Pope Francis said a synod process “must begin” and that it should start “community by community, diocese by diocese”.
Beyond the Plenary Council in Australia and what’s known as the “synodal path” being followed in Germany, few countries have responded to the Pope’s call for increased synodality with national processes.
Church events over the coming weeks
Pope Francis’ anniversary: March 13 marks the eighth anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who would take the name Pope Francis. He has been someone whose words and actions have been a source of inspiration for the Plenary Council journey. Please pray for the Pope, and especially on March 13.
Feast of St Joseph: While it’s celebrated every year, the Feast of St Joseph on March 19 will take on additional significance this year after Pope Francis announced the Year of St Joseph, running from December 2020 to December 2021. The Bishops Conference has prepared material to help mark the year, including monthly reflections on the life and character of St Joseph. Click here to access the resources.
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