Beyond the First Assembly: Archbishop Costelloe maps out the Plenary road ahead

Australia's Fifth Plenary is approaching the final stages of its first assembly

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Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth, welcomes the congregation, including members and guests, during the opening Mass of the First Plenary Council at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Perth on 3 October 2021. Photo: Ron Tan, Archdiocese of Perth

The President of the 5th Plenary Council of Australia, the Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe SDB has emphasised to Members how important their work will be in contributing to a broader discussion  on a Synodal Church at the next Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops from around the world in 2023.

The Catholic Church in Australia is holding its first such Plenary Council in over 80 years this week with the 177 members, largely gathering online, now expected to present proposals arising from their reflection and discernment as the First Assembly concludes its formal meetings on Saturday.

The groups have been asked to consider 16 specific questions covering a diverse range of areas from Indigenous spirituality and ecological conversion through to clergy formation and the future of Catholic education in Australia.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB addresses Plenary participants at its opening. Photo: Archdiocese of Sydney

Progress

Archbishop Costelloe has told the Plenary Council members, good progress has been made in the discussions over the course of the week, while acknowledging there is a long road ahead.

“I’m pleased to see that the sharing of experiences and spiritual conversations in the various groups is now leading to the emergence of key directions and ideas. By the end of our First Assembly tomorrow, it will be important that each group is able to offer up observations and proposals, arising from each group’s reflection and discernment”, he said.

Archbishop Costelloe explained to Members that each of the 10 small groups at the First Assembly will prepare reports drawing their discussions together from the week with the help of each group’s facilitator.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB of Perth, who is also President of the Plenary, concelebrates the official Opening Mass on Sunday. With him are Perth Vicar General Monsignor Peter Whitely and Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton. Photo: Jamie O’Brien

Reports

The reports are then expected to act as a starting point for consultation and discussion in the lead up to the Second Assembly, scheduled to take place in Sydney from 4-9 July 2022.

Archbishop Costelloe also shared with the Members a clear timeline for the Plenary Council, which will culminate in the sending of the Acts approved by the Australian Bishops to the Holy See from 7-11 November 2022.

In 2023, these Acts will be considered at a series of Pre-Synodal meetings of Episcopal Conferences before the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is held in October 2023.

Synodality

Pope Francis has made synodality a key focus of his pontificate and churches around the world are being invited to listen to and consult the People of God.  The Preparatory Document for the Synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” emphasises that “it is the fruitful bond between the sensus fidei of the People of God and the magisterial function of the Pastors that the unanimous consensus of the whole Church in the same faith is realised”.

The same document emphasises that “every Synodal process in which the Bishops are called to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Church, not by themselves, but by listening to the People of God, whom the Vatican 2 document, Lumen Gentium emphasise “share also in Christ’s prophetic office’, is an evident form of that “journeying together” which makes the Church grow.

Speaking at a Plenary Council Mass on Friday, the Bishop of Wollongong, Brian Mascord, spoke of the importance of missionary renewal in the contemporary Church to offer us hope as Catholics in a challenging world.

Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others. And this can happen unexpectedly, and in any place

Christian vocation

“As we approach the end of the first session of our Plenary Assembly, it occurs to me that the promise of God throughout the scriptures, that is ‘Emmanuel, that God who is with us’ is very real at this time in particular. We live in times of stress, struggle and vulnerability. Pope Francis reminds us in writing his document, Joy of the Gospel, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete stranger”, Bishop Mascord said.

“Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others. And this can happen unexpectedly, and in any place on the street, in a city square, during work, or even on a journey”.

The Closing Mass for the First Assembly will be celebrated by the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge at 11am AEDT on Sunday. The Mass will be livestreamed on the Plenary Council website.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will celebrate a Mass for Sydney members gathering for the Plenary Council at 10:30am AEDT on Sunday and the Mass will be livestreamed via the St Mary’s Cathedral You Tube channel.

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