Welcome to PlenaryPost
As we sit 101 days before the first Plenary Council assembly, momentum is building in preparation for the assembly and within the broader Catholic community. While the focus can be on the assembly and the Members who will attend — bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful — the journey continues to be one for the whole Church in Australia.
That’s why the agenda that was published last week is certainly a focus for the Members and those planning the Council, but the 16 questions posed are ones that we can all ponder when considering the future of our Church. It asks those questions under six themes, which have emerged from over three years of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment. They have certainly emerged from the voices of the People of God in Australia, refined through the working document for the Plenary Council, Continuing the Journey.
Another important step was taken last week with the first of four Member formation sessions. Each Member will attend one of the sessions — two in June, two in July — that will help introduce them to one another, familiarise them with the process of “spiritual conversation” and become more comfortable with the Teams platform that will support the multi-modal delivery.
Read on for more information on some of the topics mentioned above and other related matters. And keep an eye out for 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
A mix of emotions as the Plenary Council journey continues
by Lana Turvey-Collins
This past week, the Member Formation programs commenced. They are four sessions beginning with 90 minutes on Thursday evening, two sessions on Friday and a session on Saturday morning. We are repeating the program four times — last week, again this week and twice in July — with each Member attending the program on one of those occasions.
Last Thursday I felt very nervous. For months, the Facilitation Team, the additional Plenary Council facilitators, the Plenary Council IT director and her team and many others have been planning, designing, practising and testing the Microsoft Teams system and how to effectively facilitate an engaging, deeply prayerful and authentic encounter for the Members. Then, at 6.45pm, individual faces began showing up on my screen, and with a simple “Hello. Welcome!” we moved into a space of collaboration.
Very quickly, a sense of “we are here, we have a mission together” developed and, person by person, a small on-screen community developed. It was another sign that the Holy Spirit is at the centre of what we are trying to do, and the sessions (based on feedback) were a good experience of learning, listening and encounter.
The other important milestone we have celebrated this past month is the publication of the Agenda for the Plenary Council. It charges the Members with the responsibility of developing “concrete proposals” for the Church in Australia in response to 16 questions born of the last three years of conversation and discernment. It is important for all of us to remember when reading the Agenda that it is to be addressed over the entirety of the time we “celebrate” the Plenary Council. This includes the first Assembly in October 2021, the months between the two assemblies and the second Assembly in July 2022.
The Facilitation Team is now working on how the Agenda (the content for the Assembly, the specific focus for the communal discernment) is best designed and fits into the Program (the daily rhythm and process of Spiritual Conversations and open dialogue) which has already been mapped out and drafted for the first Assembly. It is a complex task and one that we will continue to work on over a number of months.
I hope and pray that during these uncertain and COVID-affected times you and your family and friends are safe, warm and healthy. Please take care of one another, go gently and seek God in the everyday ordinary.
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…
How can I follow the Plenary Council assemblies as a non-Member?
The Plenary Council agenda has now been published and Members of the Plenary Council will consider the 16 questions during the assemblies. Which questions are being considered at different points during the assemblies will be published. People following the Council at home, in parishes or other contexts might also consider those questions. The parts of each day when all Members are participating together in the plenary sessions will be livestreamed, allowing those who aren’t Members to hear how the assembly is unfolding.
There will be daily stories, photos, videos and other coverage of the Council assemblies. You are also invited to participate in the Plenary Council by praying before and during the assemblies. The prayers the Members will be praying will be publicly available.
‘An ecclesial renewal which cannot be deferred’
an excerpt from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium
I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.
The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion.”
The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.
While certainly not the only institution which evangelises, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be “the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters”. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.
— The opening lines of this excerpt from Evangelii Gaudium are the preamble for the Agenda for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
Agenda published for Plenary Council
The agenda of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia calls those attending the Council assemblies to “develop concrete proposals to create a more missionary, Christ-centred Church in Australia”.
The Council agenda, which emerged from three years and several layers of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment, was published on June 18. It will shape the program of the Council’s assemblies – the first of which opens on October 3 this year.
The agenda has been developed in the form of posing questions, with 16 questions falling under six themes: Conversion; Prayer; Formation; Structures; Governance; and Institutions.
“So much of what we heard during the Council journey related to this concept of ‘conversion’ – personal conversion, communal conversion and institutional conversion – with an ever-deeper renewal in Christ,” Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said.
“The agenda asks us a number of difficult questions, but without asking those difficult questions, we won’t be entering into the depth of our hearts to consider how we become that missionary, Christ-centred Church we need today.”
Archbishop: Synodality requires listening, isn’t easy
In an interview with Catholic News Service soon after the official convocation of the Plenary Council, Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the synodality Pope Francis is calling for requires deep listening — something that isn’t necessarily easy.
“I’ve learned to listen in ways that don’t come naturally to me,” he said. The Plenary Council process requires him “to just shut up and actually listen and believe that in listening to this person, who may not be saying what I want or like to hear, I might actually hear some deep echo of the voice of God”.
“I don’t feel less a bishop because of what I am learning on the journey of the Plenary Council,” he said.
“There’s something liberating in it that enables you to exercise episcopal authority in ways that may actually work and look credible.”
Sydney clergy gather for Plenary Council discussion
Priests from Sydney Archdiocese gathered recently to engage in the discernment process that has been chosen to facilitate dialogue, reflection and discernment during the Plenary Council process.
The process is one described as “spiritual conversation” and was led by Br Ian Cribb SJ, who invited the participants to reflect on Scripture and consider what the Holy Spirit is saying and then to share their thoughts and impressions. The process then moved into group sharing, where each member was encouraged to listen to one another and share their insights. Further reflection occurred and the group considered what the common theme was that had emerged.
The process will be used in group discussion at the Plenary Council assemblies. The gathering gave all participants an insight into the process as well as a good methodology for discernment in parishes.
Participants described the process as inclusive of all members, giving the opportunity to share and to listen to each member of the group.
Photo above: Fr Erick Niyiragira CP, Fr Michael McLean and Fr Dominik Karnas CSMA at the Sydney gathering
Global discussions on new Synod of Bishops plan
Representatives of bishops conferences around the world have been participating in online discussions about the process for the Synod of Bishops recently announced by Pope Francis.
Under the new plan, local consultation will be followed by consultation within regions, culminating in the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2023.
After the first couple of meetings with leaders of bishops conferences, Synod of Bishops head Cardinal Mario Grech (pictured above) said the reaction was “surprising, very positive, and there is a lot of enthusiasm among the bishops we have heard”.
In an interview with Vatican News, he said some of the bishops, like those in Australia who are preparing for a plenary council, already have had experience with consultation and listening at the grassroots level.
“We are sharing experiences,” he said. “With the preparatory document that will be published in September, we also want to publish a guidebook on synodality best practices because some have already begun, but others are only at the beginning.”
Cardinal Grech told Vatican News not much is set in stone. “We have some general ideas, but we are open. This is not a fixed process, but we are listening to our partners because the synod is not a project of the secretariat but of the Church.”
CRA to host series of online conversations
Catholic Religious Australia is launching a series of online “conversations” as a springboard for dialogue on important matters related to Church leadership and governance.
The three events, which commence next month, will explore The Light from the Southern Cross report and provide formation opportunities.
The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia, published in August 2020, has been commended as an important and substantial contribution to the life and mission of the Church in Australia.
“The report is a valuable resource and in light of the Plenary Council, the timing is right for the People of God to reflect on the themes in the report and discern what those themes mean to them,” said CRA President Br Peter Carroll FMS.
“This online conversation is an opportunity for reflective engagement with the document,” said Anne Walker, CRA’s national executive director.
“It opens the way for questions such as, who are you called to be in the Church at this time? What are the possibilities for growth within the Church? What gifts do you bring?”
Three key themes from the report have been selected for the online events, which will be delivered during the upcoming year: Mission and Church; Co-responsibility; and Accountability and Synodality.
Mission and Church will be held online on Wednesday, July 7 from 9am to 2pm (AEST). The speakers are Richard Lennan; John Warhurst; and Melissa Dwyer FDDC.
ATSI Sunday, Alive in the Spirit, Sea Sunday
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday (July 4 this year) encourages Catholics to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts of Australia’s First Peoples in the Catholic Church. For the 2021 celebration, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council has decided to adopt the NAIDOC theme for 2021: “Heal Country”. NATSICC points out that the world is in need of healing environmentally, spiritually and socially. The global community can work together to fight the injustices of inequality, racism and environmental damage. Resources, guides and activities can be found here.
Alive in the Spirit (July 8-10) will feature more than 30 on-demand workshops exploring areas such as best practice for RCIA, how to engage beyond the margins of existing faith communities, planning for mission and renewal, supporting pastoral care, social justice initiatives and much more. Alive in the Spirit is a joint initiative of the Pastoral Ministry Network, Christian Initiation Australia Network and the Mission Planners Network Oceania. Click here to read more about the event.
Sea Sunday (July 11 this year) is the day many Christian churches remember, celebrate and pray for seafarers and their families and give thanks for their lives and work. In the Catholic Church, Sea Sunday is supported by Stella Maris around the world. Stella Maris Australia prays for seafarers at Mass and provides resources for parishes and other Catholic ministries to use such as intercessory prayers notes for bulletins, posters and images for digital and social media for Sea Sunday. Parishioners are also invited to support this Catholic ministry through the Sea Sunday appeal. Click here to find out more.
Follow us online
Copyright © 2020 Plenary Council 2020, All rights reserved.