A God-given opportunity

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A candle symbolising the Plenary Council stands in St Mary’s Cathedral as Archbishop Anthony Fisher and clergy process out of the cathedral following the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
A candle symbolising the Plenary Council stands in St Mary’s Cathedral as Archbishop Anthony Fisher and clergy process out of the cathedral following the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Archdiocese of Sydney commissioned 24 Plenary Council delegates at a special Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral to represent the Archdiocese at the initial council session commencing in October.

The delegates represent a cross-section of Sydney Catholic life and include clergy, religious and laity who lead the community in a variety of fields including  education, health, social services,  ecclesial movements, youth ministry and marriage preparation, among others.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP encouraged the delegates to “focus upon the future of the Church in Australia.”

Such a process, unlike a secular event, “must begin and end in prayer, in communion with God,” he said.

“We know we must do this as the flock of Jesus Christ, particular to this time and place, with all its challenges and opportunities, graces and limitations.”

Meanwhile, “the re-evangelisation of Australia will be a crucial challenge for the Plenary Council and the generation beyond,” said Archbishop Fisher.

“Rather than curl up into a ball and hide, the Plenary Council is a God-given opportunity to face all our dreams and difficulties head on, in the grace of the Holy Spirit and the company of fellow believers, and strike out with renewed conviction.

“We know we must do this as the flock of Jesus Christ, particular to this time and place, with all its challenges and opportunities, graces and limitations.

“So we will continue to pray, listen and reflect, discern and discuss our central question: what is the Spirit saying to the Church – here and now, as well as always and everywhere?”

During the service, delegates were presented with candles lit from the cathedral’s Plenary Council Candle – a symbolic reminder of the Holy Spirit who is at the centre of the plenary journey.

Fr Kelvin Lovegrove hold a candle during the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Fr Kelvin Lovegrove hold a candle during the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The last plenary council in Australia was held in 1937 – just before the onset of the Second World War, but in 2021 there are new and unique challenges the Australian Catholic community must face.

“Our Plenary Council comes at very particular time in the history of the Church in Australia,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“[It] is a providential opportunity to look deep within and emerge from lethargy, humiliation and panic.”

“Unremitting secularisation has unsettled many faithful, corroded institutions, inoculated many of our young to the faith [and] has left our culture and polity without sound moorings, some people with no moral compass, too many without meaning or hope.”

 “[It] is a providential opportunity to look deep within and emerge from lethargy, humiliation and panic.”

“In recent times we’ve also been through the terrible purgatory of the child sexual abuse crisis and the ensuing Royal Commission and public trials.

“These brought with them much justified criticism and understandable disillusionment, continuing scrutiny and demands for reform, and some ongoing hostility.

“Then, of course, most recently a global pandemic has challenged every part of our community and aspect of our lives, Church included.

“Though Australians have fared better than most, the pandemic may have magnified some of the pressures and declines already identified.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP hands a candle to Plenary Council delegate Chris Lee in St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP hands a candle to Plenary Council delegate Chris Lee in St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Fisher encouraged the community to look outward as the first Christians, taking inspiration from Pope Francis’s message.

“Rather than being self-obsessed and inward-looking as a Church, we must look outwards and be there for people – as Pope Francis keeps emphasising.

“If ever the Church is to regain credibility and merit people’s trust, I am convinced the works of mercy, of helping the needy, will be central.

“Rather than a mere gabfest or symbolic performance, our Council must be the springboard for deeper engagement with Christ, His Church, the community [and] each other.

“People must see once again ‘how those Christians love each other’.”

The Plenary, which was due to commence in 2020, was postponed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If ever the Church is to regain credibility and merit people’s trust, I am convinced the works of mercy, of helping the needy, will be central.”

Its first assembly in October is to be conducted using a combination of video conferencing and in-person delivery in diocesan, inter diocesan or provincial groups.

The second session in July 2022 will be held in Sydney.

The foundational and invitational theme of this Fifth Australian Plenary Council is ‘Listen to What the Spirit is saying’ – highlighting the focal impetus of the Holy Spirit in guiding all actions and decisions throughout the process.

A Plenary Council is the highest formal gathering of all local churches in a particular country.

There have been four Plenary Councils in Australia’s ecclesial history.

For more information, vist the Plenary’s website: plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au