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A Renovation of parish life that’s Divine

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Canadian priest and founder of Divine Renovation, Fr James Mallon, addresses participants at the Divine Renovation Australia gathering at St Declan’s Parish in Penshurst last weekend. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation
Canadian priest and founder of Divine Renovation, Fr James Mallon, addresses participants at the Divine Renovation Australia gathering at St Declan’s Parish in Penshurst last weekend. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation

The first Divine Renovation conference in Australia brought close to 500 delegates from across the country and New Zealand to Sydney for three days of inspiration and education in ways that parishes can become dynamic centres of the Church’s life and mission.

They joined national and international leaders in evangelisation and parish renewal including Divine Renovation founder Fr James Mallon and Fr Simon Lobo CC, the parish priest of St Benedict’s in Halifax, whose experience of renewal was detailed in Fr Mallon’s book Divine Renovation.

The conference was hosted by St Declan’s Parish at Penshurst over three days at the church and Marist Catholic College, Penshurst, with the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation a supporting partner.

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It opened on 10 February with Mass and a keynote by Fr Mallon in which he laid out the case for parishes to move from maintenance to mission.

The task of parish renewal is “not easy” and involves cultural change in our parishes but it is an adventure which brings new life, he said.

“The primary task of the missionary church is to fulfil the commission that Jesus gave to go and make disciples of all nations….to be a church that is not about itself but about others.”

“Mission is not just something we do, or that we could or should do. It’s who we are. It is ultimately a question of identity. The church has an identity crisis and has forgotten who we are as a church,” he said.

“The primary task of the missionary church is to fulfil the commission that Jesus gave to go and make disciples of all nations….to be a church that is not about itself but about others.”

Following the conference, local keynote speaker and Penshurst parish priest Fr Chris Ryan MGL said that it had been a privilege to host the inaugural event.

“Divine Renovation’s approach to parish renewal has greatly influenced our parish’s mission, vision and strategy. It has been very exciting to see the fruit of changed lives, genuine Christian community, and a parish that is truly seeking to reach out to those who not yet know the love of God.

Bishop Michael Gielen, Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand, preaches a homily at the closing Mass for the Divine Renovation Australasia Conference in Sydney last weekend. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation
Bishop Michael Gielen, Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand, preaches a homily at the closing Mass for the Divine Renovation Australasia Conference in Sydney last weekend. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation

“We are praying that the fruits of the conference may be felt in parishes across Australia and New Zealand in the coming years.”

Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation Daniel Ang, who was also a workshop leader and panel participant, told The Catholic Weekly, he thought the high number of registrants expresses the desire among priests and lay leaders for their parishes to fully embrace what is an apostolic age for the Church.

“The decline of merely ‘cultural Catholicism’ in the pews and wider disengagement with our parishes pushes us toward a rediscovery of their identity as true centres of evangelisation where disciples are made, equipped and sent by the Lord,” he said.

“There’s been a holy discontent and fervent desire for the missionary conversion of our parishes, and it’s inspiring to see so many parish clergy and leaders lay their lives down so others can encounter Jesus Christ.

“We were especially glad to welcome a number of parish teams from Sydney willing to learn and review their practices so their communities do not continue to decline but grow through the decision to put the mission of evangelisation at the heart of their leadership and culture. It’s a decision very much aligned with Archbishop Fisher’s vision for our parishes in the years ahead.”

“Evangelisation doesn’t mean you have to go out on the street and start talking to people …”

The conference garnered high praise from participants who spoke of its reverent liturgies, powerful praise and worship, keynote addresses and workshops.

Workshop topics included how to share the Gospel through personal testimony, forming small communities within a parish, building a healthy, missionary parish team, insights into delivering purposeful homilies and employing strategy in the service of parish renewal. Penshurst parishioner John Romanous was one of 75 volunteers and signed up because of his passion for evangelisation.

“Evangelisation doesn’t mean you have to go out on the street and start talking to people,” he said.

“I can be here finding out about who wants a special dietary requirement at lunch times and it’s evangelising; extending God’s infinite love unconditionally to all those who surround you so hopefully people will encounter Christ in me and I’ll encounter Christ in them.”

Delgates pray for keynote speaker Fr Simon Lobo CC. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation
Delegates pray for keynote speaker Fr Simon Lobo CC. Photo: Courtesy, Alejandro Fdez.-Cotta Andrade/Divine Renovation

Maree Ataya said she had been touched by seeing a passion for learning more about Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith ignited in Penshurst and Peakhurst parishes after they embraced Alpha and Search respectively.

“Jesus became a person to them, and a friend, and in all my years of parish ministry it’s the first time I’ve seen such quick change across so many people. It’s spread like wildfire. We need to be evangelised, we need to hear the kerygma, that was how I was converted at the age of 19. It changed my life overnight and that’s why I’m so passionate about this.”

Richie Leilua of All Saints Liverpool attended with other members of the leadership team wanting to learn more about how to be a missionary parish. “We want to reach people who don’t believe in Christ and find ways we can be present to them. If we look at the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ said to make disciples of all nations and we’re not called just to say but to do, we have to act and lead.”

Anna Lopeti a high school teacher in Fairfield and member of the Tongan Catholic community said she wanted to be more involved in the life of the parish Our Lady of the Rosary. “I’m passionate about assisting in any way I can in parish renewal and I feel that coming here will ignite my heart too,” she said.

Paul Donovan, director of programs and services at Divine Renovation told The Catholic Weekly that his team directly coaches about 400 parishes around the world and benefits thousands more through events, workshops and other resources it offers.

“Yes every parish is unique, but the difficulties and challenges they are facing are the same across the world. And the principles that address those things, it’s a matter of figuring out how to apply the principles that addresses those things in their own context.”

“Every parish tells us we are unique here, which is true on the one hand and not true on the other.

“Yes every parish is unique, but the difficulties and challenges they are facing are the same across the world. And the principles that address those things, it’s a matter of figuring out how to apply the principles that addresses those things in their own context.

“All we hear in the media about the Church is the challenges it’s facing but you come to something like this and realise how many sparks of hope there are here. It’s really inspiring.

“The idea is that once you become involved in this you almost already pregnant, it’s going to deliver something new.”

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