Welcome to PlenaryPost
With much of greater Sydney in lockdown and two other states having just emerged from lockdown, there is a sense of comfort in knowing that all the planning for a multi-modal Plenary Council assembly in October means we are ready for all eventualities. That is not to say there aren’t a lot of plans to be finalised, but we are well prepared to support the Council’s members and the Catholic community through the days of the assembly.
We’ve been hearing lots of stories from parishes, schools and other Church communities about how people are engaging with the Council’s agenda, which was published last month. We encourage you all to find ways to reflect upon and pray with the agenda and the 16 questions it poses.
The Council agenda emerged from three years and several layers of prayer, listening, dialogue and discernment. It will shape the program of the Council’s assemblies – the first of which opens in 66 days on October 3.
More stories are also emerging about how Council members are engaging with their local communities, how they are responding to the agenda and even how the pandemic is affecting how they will participate. There are some stories on those themes below.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Walking towards the Council’s second stage: Celebration
by Lana Turvey-Collins
Greetings from the Facilitation Team, coming to you virtually from all over Sydney — all working from home in lockdown!
We hope you all are well, and if you are also in lockdown, anywhere in Australia, please go gently, take care of yourselves and one another and try to get some sunshine on your face each day. It really does help! If you need support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends, family or other support networks for encouragement, support and a little connection.
This month’s edition of PlenaryPost comes to you after the completion of four sessions (one program, offered four times) of formation for Council Members. We are delighted to share that the experience was a great success! Thanks to the hard work of our wonderful Microsoft Teams tech wizards over in the West, the formation experience was one that provided time and space for Members to listen and speak with one another, to pray together, to learn and to connect.
The sessions included training in Microsoft Teams, the platform on which the first assembly will take place, formation on discernment and the practice of Spiritual Conversations for decision-making, teaching and learning on conscious and unconscious bias when working in groups, and we also spent time unpacking the Statutes and Regulatory Norms.
There was time for open questions and answers, broad discussion and contemplative prayer. In future editions of PlenaryPost, we will include some of the formation, tools and resources with you all — in particular the online approach to practising Spiritual Conversations, which could be wonderfully rich for many of our parishes and local groups right now.
The Plenary Council webpage tells me that it is less than 70 days until we open the first assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia, and you all have been a part of bringing it to life. I look forward to coming weeks, as we reignite the flame, reconnect with one another and step towards the second stage of the Plenary Council: Celebration.
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…
Can I pray for the success of the Plenary Council?
Yes, you can. And we’d be most grateful if you did. The Plenary Council prayer was composed to coincide with the opening of the Plenary Council process at Pentecost 2018, but it will guide the journey towards the final assembly in 2022.
You can access the prayer here in multiple formats.
‘On The Gifting of the Holy Spirit’
A reflection by Fr Andrew Doohan, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
[The Holy Spirit is] continually guiding the life of the Church as it has done for more than two millennia, and which will continue to guide the life of the Church into the future – if only we are prepared to listen to the often soft and sometimes hard promptings of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers individually and the Church corporately.
But how do we identify and acknowledge the presence of the Spirit in our lives, both individually and collectively? How do we ensure that it is, in fact, the Spirit that is capturing our attention and prompting us to move from where we are?
In other words, is what we are thinking about, both in words and actions, truly the actions of the Spirit, or is it ‘just us’ having a brainwave, coming up with a thought that might have its origins in any number of places, including our agendas and preferences?
The discernment of the Spirit, unsurprisingly, has had a long history in the life of the Church, and there are many approaches that could be, and have been, adopted across the history and the life of the Church. Common to many approaches – and to the one I prefer to use personally – is what I like to term “hastening slowly”. And by that, I mean that we take the time to stop, to pray, to reflect, and to come to understand what the way forward might be.
Bishop Long names his ‘hope’ for Plenary Council
The Catholic Church in Australia has a chance to blaze a trail for the faithful around the world, Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv said when delivering the recent Dom Helder Camara Lecture.
While acknowledging the great number of challenges the Church in Australia is facing, including the aftermath of the child sexual abuse royal commission, Bishop Long said the Plenary Council process offers an opportunity for meaningful change.
“In many areas, Australia punches above its weight. Could we be a leading light in the struggle for a more fit-for-purpose Church in this place and in this time?” Bishop Long asked.
“Could Australian Catholics rise to the challenge and co-create the synodal Church that Pope Francis has envisaged?
“While the Plenary Council may not address all of the issues of importance, it is certainly worth the effort in discerning the roadmap for the future.”
Brisbane members encouraged by Council agenda
With the Plenary Council agenda having been published in June, Council members and the wider Catholic community have been reflecting on and praying with the 16 questions that form the agenda.
Brisbane’s Tom Warren, one of the Council’s youngest members, told The Catholic Leader he is “very optimistic and very excited to see where the Council goes”.
He said he hoped he and other younger members will find their voice during the assemblies.
“The youth are the leaders of tomorrow and it doesn’t seem to me to be too much focus on that,” he said.
“But at the same time, I think a lot of that will come through the questions if we dig deep enough, we will have a youth focus at the end.”
Sr Maeve Heaney, a formator at Holy Spirit Seminary and another Council member, called the phrasing of the questions that form the agenda “quite beautiful”.
The openness of the questions, which allowed the Church to breathe, reflects the journey the Church had embarked on, she said.
Member from Adelaide takes Council on the road
Kiara Ryan is taking a slightly different path to the Plenary Council, as the member who is currently “on the road” with her family prepares to participate in the first assembly.
A fifth lay delegate named for the Adelaide Archdiocese, Mrs Ryan will be attending one of the assembly’s province hubs, most likely in Queensland, because she and her husband Dan and four young sons are heading on the adventure of a lifetime.
“Life has changed since I put in my nomination to be a member…lockdown changed our direction as a family and changed Dan’s work and we have decided to go travelling around Australia for six months in a camper trailer,” she told The Southern Cross.
“I put my nomination in to be involved in the Plenary because I felt called to do it and I am interested in and excited about the process. I also knew I had the availability to be involved, something that not all young mums might be able to commit to.
“I really believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Plenary process, and I am constantly praying for guidance.”
Canberra-Goulburn women meet with members
The Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn Women’s Taskforce has taken the opportunity to meet with several of the Archdiocese’s Plenary Council members to help them understand some of the issues local women are facing.
As well as hearing from the four Council members, the members of the Taskforce were able to express their concerns, especially those of young women and their families, about the changing nature of society and therefore of the Church and its role in society.
The position and role of women and their inclusion within the governance of the Church was highlighted, as was the need for a more inclusive language in all church liturgies and documents.
‘There’s no synodality without the Spirit’
With the next global Synod of Bishops to address the question of synodality, Pope Francis and key advisers are working to unpack the notion of synodality.
Speaking in April, Pope Francis said: “We must be precise, when we speak of synodality, of synodal journey, of synodal experience. It is not a parliament […] Synodality is not only the discussion of problems, of different things that there are in society […] There cannot be synodality without the Spirit, and there is no Spirit without prayer.”
Sr Nathalie Becquart, Under-Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, expanded on the Pope’s thinking in an interview with Vatican News, particularly examining the relationship between spirituality and synodality.
“What is fundamental and certain is that there is no synodality without spirituality because synodality places at its centre the fact of walking together with Christ and listening to the Holy Spirit,” she said.
“This spiritual dimension is therefore truly an essential dimension of synodality that we must continue to explore.”
Another interview with Sr Nathalie, conducted by The Tablet’s Christopher Lamb, can be accessed here.
What’s happening with Germany’s ‘synodal way’?
Among a number of closely-watched Church processes that have been established around the world, the Church in Germany has commenced a “synodal way”.
A less structured approach than a plenary council or a national synod, the “synodal way” has been criticised in some circles as too unstructured to achieve genuine renewal.
An article and podcast from America magazine has tried to explore the situation in Germany. The journalist interviewed four people involved in the process: A bishop involved in the synod’s forum on power, a theologian involved in the forum on women’s roles, one of the synodal way’s spiritual guides, and a critic of the process.
Celebrating a key Plenary Council partner
The Plenary Council is a pivotal journey for the Catholic Church in Australia and has sought to engage all parts of the Church. One key partner in the process has been the National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR).
The NCPR has produced hundreds of pages of research and analysis for the Plenary Council, including Listen to What the Spirit is Saying, the report on the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Council, and diocesan reports from that same process. It has also supported the development of the Thematic Discernment Papers and the working document, Continuing the Journey.
The NCPR recently celebrated 25 years supporting the life and mission of the Church in Australia, and the Plenary Council will be part of the ongoing legacy for the Centre. We are extremely grateful for the work of Dr Trudy Dantis, its director, and the team that works alongside her.
Feast of Mary MacKillop, Social Justice Sunday
Feast of St Mary MacKillop: The Church will celebrate the feast of Australia’s first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, on August 8. Born in Melbourne, Mary went on to found the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart and among her many focus areas was the education of girls. The Josephites have run hundreds of schools across Australia and New Zealand over the past 150 years. Mary was canonised on October 17, 2010, with thousands of Australians in Rome for the ceremony. Click here to learn more about St Mary MacKillop.
Social Justice Sunday (August 29 this year) is a day to celebrate the Church’s deep commitment to social teaching and is marked with the release of an annual Social Justice Statement. The 2021-22 Social Justice Statement, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, affirms that “we human beings need a change of heart, mind and behaviour”. It draws from Scripture, from the theological tradition, from Catholic Social Teaching and from the wisdom of the world, including the insights of the First Nations. Find out more on the Office for Social Justice website.
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