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There has been a sense through this Plenary Council journey that the Catholic world is following what is happening in Australia closely. With just two other plenary councils having taken place in the past 60 years around the world, and none with the level of dialogue and discernment of the Australia process, there’s significant interest in what will unfold.
There are two important ways in which that’s been observed recently. Firstly, there was a fair amount of international reporting — from Auckland to Rome and many places in between — on the release of Continuing the Journey, the Council’s working document. Secondly, as other countries dip their toe into the water of national assemblies of one form or another, including Germany, Italy and now Ireland (more below), the stories inevitably mention Australia’s Plenary Council.
There are several interesting updates below on things happening locally. 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 email@example.com
Power of prayer — for each other, for the Council, for the Members
by Lana Turvey-Collins
As I write this, my thoughts and prayers are with the many families struggling to clean up and recover after great damage caused by the deluge of rain in the past few days and subsequent flood waters. I hope you all are safe and able to move forward slowly with the support of the community around you.
In the background of the ferocious weather patterns, the Plenary Council journey of discernment for the Church in Australia continues. It may seem to many that “there is not much going on” and yet all over the country there are people reading, writing, thinking and praying — working towards the Council assemblies to prepare themselves as best as possible, seeking wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
One such group of people is the Members of the Plenary Council assemblies. For the past couple of years, we have been using the language of ‘Delegates’; now, to be in congruence with the Statutes and Regulatory Norms for the Council, you will notice that we will be using the term ‘Members’. There is more on the term in the Curiosity Corner section below.
These nearly 300 people will gather together in their states in the first week of October and are charged with the responsibility of carrying the discernment journey forward. They will talk and pray and vote on decisions together over the course of the first and second assemblies and will use the time between the two gatherings to connect and engage with the broad Church in Australia for deepening their sense of the faithful and hearing the whispers of the Holy Spirit.
It is a great challenge they have taken on and I ask you to pray for them and the journey we are all on. Of course, each of us has a continuing role to participate. We are baptised into a community of God’s people, each of us called to bear witness to the Gospel where we live. It is something we can respond to every day in our lives.
In just over a week we will celebrate Easter and the risen Christ Jesus, who showed us the Kingdom of God. May we listen to the Holy Spirit guiding us toward the way of Jesus and encounter the joy of the Gospel in our living.
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…
Who attends the Plenary Council assemblies?
There will be three main groups of people attending the Council’s assemblies: Members; Advisers; and Observers.
Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are those who have been called to participate in the assemblies. Some of the members are people who “must” be called to a plenary council, as outlined in Church law; others are people who “may” be called, who were chosen through a range of processes across the country. The members have, at times, been referred to as “delegates” to the Council. The language of “member” better reflects the canonical status of those called to a Council, as well as the sense that all members are there to represent the People of God in Australia, not just their local Church community. Members are the only people who can vote at the Council assemblies. It is expected there will be 280 members at the assemblies.
Advisers to the Council are people with particular expertise across a range of matters, such as theology, Scripture, governance, formation, ecclesiology (study of the Church), who can be called upon by members, individually or collectively, to provide advice on particular matters to assist with their discernment and decision-making. Advisers are sometimes called “experts” or “periti”, a latin term used to describe the experts at the Second Vatican Council and other major Church events.
Observers are people who, as the name suggests, observe the proceedings of the Council assemblies because of their particular relationship with the Catholic Church in Australia. Following the tradition of other Church gatherings, the observers are likely to include Catholic leaders from other parts of the world, especially New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia; leaders of other Christian denominations; and leaders of other faith traditions. The observers might attend some or all of the assemblies.
The Members, Advisers and Observers will be supported by staff and volunteers helping with the facilitation of discernment, technology requirements, events management and liturgical needs. Media and communications staff will help document the national and local aspects of the Council assemblies.
The importance of accompaniment
From Pope Francis’ message marking the opening of the Amoris Laetitia Family year
“If the Gospel were to be presented as a doctrine dropped from on high, and did not enter into the ‘flesh’ of this daily life, it would risk remaining a fine theory and, at times, being experienced as a moral obligation. We are called to accompany, to listen, to bless the journey of families; not only to set out the direction, but to make the journey with them; to enter the home with discretion and love, to say to the couple: the Church is with you, the Lord is close to you, we want to help you safeguard the gift you have received.
“Proclaiming the Gospel by accompanying people and placing ourselves at the service of their happiness: in this way, we can help families to journey in a way that responds to their vocation and mission, aware of the beauty of the bonds and their foundation in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Working document seen as invitation to discern
Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB has explained that some aspects of the Council journey so far — including the process of listening to one another — have been part of a process of transformation.
“We’re called to be together, a living, effective, and unambiguous sign of God’s presence and action in our world,” Archbishop Costelloe said in a podcast released earlier this month.
“We’re coming to understand more a process that calls everybody in the Church to listen – this is not new as a concept of the Church but might be new to many of us in terms of how we’ve gone about our lives as Catholics.
“I think we can be confident that as long as we do stay focused on this art of discernment, on this listening voice of the Spirit coming through what we’re doing in this Plenary Council – this can only bring good to the Church.”
The interview with Archbishop Costelloe had a particular focus on his work as a member of the writing group for Continuing the Journey, the working document (or instrumentum laboris) for the Plenary Council. It also offered some insights into the role of the bishops in the Council journey, including with the working document.
All four members of the writing group for Continuing the Journey were interviewed for Plenary Podcast. Click here to access all four episodes.
Some parts of Church life ‘cry out for renewal’
Reflecting on some similarities and differences between the Church of the 1950s and 1960s and the Church today, Daniel Ang said the Plenary Council will tackle some important issues, as Vatican II did for the global Church.
Mr Ang, a former member of the Plenary Council’s executive committee and of the writing group for the Council’s working document, wrote in The Catholic Weekly that the voices of tens of thousands of Australians have recognised some areas where renewal is needed.
Among the areas of Church life that people called for change within were, Mr Ang explained, “parishes and school systems, the spiritual renewal of clergy and families, the protection of life and religious freedom, reform of the practice of governance and the reinvigoration of co-responsibility in service of the Church’s mission to evangelise”.
He says Continuing the Journey, the working document, “represents the distillation of thousands of voices shared over these past three years, integrates the pastoral reality of the Church in Australia via research, and engages the wider tradition of the Church as a resource for faithful discipleship to Jesus now and into the future”.
“It captures in a unique and perhaps even historic way the situation and atmosphere of the Church in Australia at this moment in all of its light and shadow,” Mr Ang said.
‘A way to the future at a time of great uncertainty’
Ten women and men have been commissioned as members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia from the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
The members commissioned during a Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral on March 7 included four women – Sr Maeve Heaney, Liliana Ortiz, Toni Janke and Patricia Kennedy – and layman Tom Warren, an Albany Creek parish youth co-ordinator.
Five clergy complete Brisbane’s Plenary Council membership: Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell, Vicar General Msgr Peter Meneely, Fr Adrian Farrelly and Fr Dan Ryan.
In his homily at the commissioning Mass, Archbishop Coleridge pondered the question of what the Plenary Council is.
“It is a way to the future at a time of great uncertainty,” he said.
“There is more than just shadows, there is a kind of darkness upon us. What we search for is God’s way into the future – not some way we concoct for ourselves, which is a way to nowhere.
“But we are the whole Church, not just delegates or bishops but the whole Church in this land, is in search of God’s way into the future.”
Women’s national online consultation this Saturday
Catholic women are being invited to participate in a national consultation with two bishops this weekend and to mark their diaries for a national gathering in September.
The national consultation, which will take place on 27 March via Zoom, invites women to articulate and celebrate their contribution to and vision for the mission of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Clara Geoghegan, the coordinator of the consultation, said women she had spoken with were supportive of the idea of a national conversation.
“Our Church has become increasingly comfortable with the notion of listening and dialogue, in part because of the Plenary Council’s invitation to engage in that way,” she said.
“Women are looking forward to the opportunity to speak with the two bishops and with one another and, as invited by the great document Gaudium et Spes, to share their joys and their hopes, their griefs and their anxieties, for the Church in Australia.”
Women are also encouraged to mark their diaries for the Catholic Women’s Gathering, which will take place on September 11. It will feature in-person events, as well as pre-recorded content for viewing at the hubs, which will stimulate local conversations.
Ireland announces plan for national assembly
Ireland’s Catholic bishops have announced that they will hold a national synodal assembly “within the next five years”.
The bishops said that they had considered holding a national assembly since the 2018 youth synod in Rome. They decided at their 2020 winter plenary meeting to “proceed along a synodal pathway”.
The bishops spoke of the need to promote peace, a “culture of welcome” and transparency, as well as supporting the family and young people.
“We are also aware that many people have left Church behind and in some cases feel ignored, excluded or forgotten — we need to hear their voices also,” they said.
Preparations for the assembly will begin with two years of prayer, listening, consultation and discernment, overlapping with an assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome on synodality.
Reaching out to the unaffiliated
One of the aims of the Plenary Council has been to hear the voices of people who, for any number of reasons, live on the peripheries. The Listening and Dialogue stage was a particular invitation for anyone to participate in the Council journey, but the aspiration remains central to the process.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched an initiative last year called “Outreach to the Unaffiliated”. As Bishop Robert Barron wrote: “Identifying who the disaffiliated are and seeking to understand their motivation should be a top priority in the life of the Church.”
The document asks “Who are the Unaffiliated? Why are they leaving? How do we get them back?” It identifies five paths: Justice, beauty, truth, new media and parish transformation.
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