Welcome to PlenaryPost
The Steering Team for the Plenary Council’s assemblies, with sub-committees across a range of key areas, are ramping up preparations for the first assembly, which opens on October 3. Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB will celebrate the opening Mass at 11am AWST (2pm AEDT), which will be livestreamed from St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth on the Council website.
Lots of Church communities are ramping up their engagement with the Council’s agenda, which was published last month. In the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, for example, a six-week process of discussing each of the six themes has just begun, leading up the first assembly. How are you and your friends, family or community responding to the agenda’s 16 questions?
As we write, about two-thirds of Australians are in lockdown, with other communities having just emerged from their own COVID-19 restrictions. The plan to hold five hubs across the country had to be abandoned, given those lockdowns, but some dioceses (where local health and government regulations allow it) are expecting to bring local members together for some aspects of the assembly. All the hard work already carried out to prepare for the online assembly with hubs has meant the change to the majority of members participating individually was not a drastic one. We have outstanding technical support teams in place to ensure the assembly runs smoothly.
Preview stories before the opening of the Council continue to be published across the country. Keep an eye on our social media channels (links are at the end of this newsletter) to keep abreast of what’s happening. We’ll also have a bumper edition of Plenary Post next month, explaining how the whole Church in Australia can participate in the Plenary Council from wherever you are.
Lighting a candle in the darkness
by Lana Turvey-Collins
As I write this, the Plenary Council first General Assembly countdown clock tells me that it is just 37 days until we celebrate the Opening Mass on Sunday, October 3. In the midst of all the adrenaline and rush of organising a virtual gathering for more than 300 people across five times zones, I’ve been reflecting on the purpose of the journey we have been on and where it all might be leading.
Every day, almost every conversation I am a part of begins with speaking about lockdown restrictions, case numbers, border closures, COVID-safe practice and other phrases that seem to have, in a very short time, become part of the social fabric of Australian living. I know in my own immediate circle, I have friends and family who are health workers, retail workers who have lost their job, whose small business has crumbled and livelihood has been lost, who have had a baby and had little to no post-natal support, or who have lost a loved one and had to grieve by video conference.
I feel that the oppressive experience of life-changing pandemic measures has affected every person, their family and community in a way that is yet to be fully understood.
Personally, there are more days that are joy-filled than not, and for that I am deeply grateful. I think that my faith and my experience of God’s love through the support my family, my work team, my faith community and my friends have provided light in the darkness with a reliability that defies any force of what the world might throw at me.
But it also makes it imperative that rather than keeping the graced resilience and healthy mind, body and heart to myself or my immediate sphere of influence, that my Baptism demands of me to expand my sphere — to reach out, to be kind in the face of judgement, to forgive in moments of angry exchange, to not only light the candle for someone else, but probably even to make candles, hand them out and provide matches!
This is all a long (and probably not very eloquent) way of saying that my reflection on the purpose of the journey toward the Plenary Council is one that is grounded in the daily lives of each individual person who is a part of the broad and beautifully diverse People of God who are living their lives every day. We need to make sure everyone has a candle and that it is lit — every day.
How we best can do this in contemporary Australia is, I feel, the power that is held in the content and broadly open questions that are the Plenary Council agenda. In answering those questions, my hope is that the Members of the Plenary Council and their advisors will offer back to the People of God something that provides light in the darkness for as many people as divinely-humanly possible.
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 Responses 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.
Parishes — schools of holiness and evangelisation
There is not a well-developed understanding and practice of the Church as a community of missionary disciples. The Plenary Council offers the Church in Australia an opportunity to consider carefully, and prayerfully, what steps must be taken to awaken this awareness of the missionary vocation of every Catholic, for all the baptised are called equally to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Every parish should be a school of holiness and evangelisation. These two dimensions provide a framework for urgently needed parish renewal. In relation to this need, the National Consultation provided a number of suggestions: restructure parishes within a diocese to make the best use of limited resources; assess the sustainability of current diocesan boundaries; strengthen formation of adult leaders; encourage the sharing of resources and fostering of collaboration between parishes, schools, agencies and movements; re-examine the effectiveness of sacramental preparation programmes; promote the spiritual life and an intentional, missionary discipleship amongst the faithful; and engage new forms of technology as adopted during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Our parishes in particular are challenged to renew the formation of children, young people and families who may not be strongly connected to the Church but who still have an ‘instinct for the faith’ which prompts them to seek the sacraments or engage in part with the Church’s life.
Technology set for Spirit-led Council assembly
Despite large parts of the country being in lockdown, those planning the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia say all is in readiness to deliver the first assembly in October wholly online.
Bishop Shane Mackinlay, the Plenary Council’s vice-president, said the Council journey has adapted to changing circumstances because of COVID-19 – and it is adapting again.
“With most of the country’s population currently in lockdown or having experienced lockdowns in recent weeks, we have plans in place to ensure the first assembly opens on October 3,” he said.
“Just as there was disappointment in needing first to postpone the assembly and then to move to regional hubs, the likelihood that most members will now join the assembly from their home is not what we had planned and hoped for.
“We know, though, that the Holy Spirit can and will work through this assembly, just as the Spirit has led us over the past three-and-a-half years.”
How did we end up with a Plenary Council?
As the Church prepares for the opening of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, Archbishop Mark Coleridge has reflected on the two-decade journey that has led to this historic event.
The origins of the Council go back to Pope John Paul II’s letter at the start of this century, entitled Novo Millennio Ineunte. The encouragement for local engagement found in that document prompted discernment of a way forward that has been punctuated with challenges and opportunities.
“There have been times when I wondered if we would ever make it,” Archbishop Coleridge writes in a new article.
“But after all the delays and changes of plan, we have come at last to the first assembly of the Plenary Council, which has quite a pre-history.”
The Year of Grace, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the election of Pope Francis were all significant moments in the journey to the first assembly.
Personally, Archbishop Coleridge writes that the Synod of Bishops on the Family was a pivotal moment in him believing a plenary council was the right kind of gathering for the Church in Australia.
Leaders of congregations commissioned for Council
More than 120 people gathered online earlier this month as the 45 members of Religious Congregations and Institutes of Apostolic Life called as members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia were commissioned.
Speaking before a prayer service organised by Catholic Religious Australia, CRA president Br Peter Carroll FMS said there is a sense of anticipation of the momentous opportunity ahead.
“We are facing a significant moment in the history of the Australian Church,” said Br Carroll. “The Plenary Council is a vital opportunity for dialogue and discernment, attentive to Pope Francis’ leadership and the energies of the Holy Spirit.”
As the 45 Plenary Council Members were called individually by name, they were invited to state a particular gift, quality or attribute that they are committed to bringing to the Plenary Council Assembly.
Keep Fanning the Flame in prayer campaign
Catholics are being invited to make the Plenary Council a key prayer intention as the first assembly approaches.
The Fan the Flame campaign, launched in May, has resources for each week up until the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – the final weekend before the first assembly of the Council. The materials include multimedia files, weekly reflections, bulletin notices and suggested musical choices.
“These are simple – yet profound and meaningful – ways in which parishes, Catholic schools, aged care facilities, universities, hospitals and families may journey in prayer with the Plenary Council,” said Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, the Plenary Council president.
Sr Kerry Willison RSM, who is leading the national liturgy committee for the Plenary Council, said the committee hoped that “through these resources, all people will find ways to enter more deeply into their own prayerful preparation for this national event, and to pray for those with special roles during the Council assemblies”.
Brisbane religious express hopes for the Council
Three Brisbane-based leaders of religious congregations will bring their experience and wisdom to the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, as outlined in The Catholic Leader.
Speaking to the Brisbane newspaper, Canossian Sister Melissa Dwyer, Dominican provincial Fr Anthony Walsh and Mercy Congregation leader Sr Catherine Reuter said they are looking forward to participating in this historic event for the Catholic Church in Australia.
Sr Dwyer said she was encouraged to see the need expressed to create concrete proposals that are leading to a more missionary and Christ-centred Church.
She said she “loves” that statement because “it talks about two things that I believe are really crucial – the call to mission and the need for the Church to be always focused on Christ; and it also has that nature of the concrete proposals”.
Fr Walsh said the agenda met many of the needs of the future of the Church.
“We’re all co-responsible, all the baptised are co-responsible, for the mission and how we live that out – we’re all going to be manifesting that in different ways according to our own vocation, our own calling as lay, religious or priest,” he said.
Sr Reuter said the inclusion of “formation and structures as key themes on the agenda captured her interest, as did the journey of discernment (an ongoing Spirit-filled process) that we are called to engage in and commit ourselves to”.
Social Justice, Safeguarding, Migrants & Refugees
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 Justice, Ecology and Peace website.
Safeguarding Sunday (formerly known as Child Protection Sunday) seeks to acknowledge the immense damage caused by the sexual abuse of children and adults at risk, including by priests, religious and lay people within Catholic contexts. It makes a commitment to practices and protocols that create and maintain safe environments for all people. It invites people to pray for those harmed by abuse directly and indirectly. Safeguarding Sunday this year falls on September 12. Find out more here.
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated on the last Sunday in September (September 26 this year). The theme of Pope Francis’ message is Towards an Ever Wider “We”, in which he reflects on the need for a more inclusive and welcoming world for those on the margins, including refugees and asylum-seekers. A series of resources will soon be published on the Australian Catholic Migrants and Refugee Office website.
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