Clear proposals have emerged from Members attending the First Assembly of the Plenary Council this week, including moves to better embrace the rich liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church in Australia, especially its Eastern Rite churches, a renewed focus on vocations and on strengthening partnerships between Catholic schools and parishes.
The proposals were presented by representatives from the 277 members across ten small groups on the final working day of the week-long First Assembly and are expected to guide discussions over the next nine months with clear motions then presented at the Second Assembly in Sydney in July 2022.
A representative on the Plenary Council from the Maronite Eparchy, Mrs Theresa Simon, presented recommendations from her group which had focused on how the Catholic Church in Australia might better embrace the cultural gifts of immigrant communities and the diverse liturgical traditions linked to that.
The group has called for stronger collaboration with the Eastern Rite churches and diverse linguistic and cultural communities to include and enshrine in the Catholic education system, the teaching of Eastern tradition and spirituality.
It has suggested this could be embraced in a number of ways, including through prayer and the liturgical life of Catholic schools and parishes, the formation of teachers in Catholic institutes, through the religious education curriculums of Diocesan and Catholic independent schools and in the courses run through tertiary institutions.
“We must do more than acknowledge diversity, rather we must enshrine diversity in all we do, in particular when it comes to breathing with an Eastern and a Western lung”, Mrs Simon told the Assembly members.
“We must not do this simply for the satisfaction of those Churches and communities, but rather for the richness and gifts that diversity brings to the entire Church”.
“There is a need for the Eastern Church and the diverse cultural and linguistic communities to be reflected in whole Church liturgical gatherings in Australia. Our liturgical celebrations need to be attentive to particular cultural traditions and enrich worship and celebrate the diversity of community”, Mrs Simon added.
The same message of inclusion was also presented by Ms Sabrina-Ann Stevens from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council who delivered the recommendations from her group which had reflected on how the Church in Australia may learn from the First Nations Peoples.
Ms Stevens emphasised that the group drew heavily from the inspiration of St John Paul II and his historic message to Indigenous Catholics on a visit to Alice Springs in 1986:
“You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others”.
To bring that vision into concrete action, the small group reflecting on this question has called for the inclusion of Indigenous leaders as partners in decision-making at every level of the Church- parishes, dioceses, Catholic education, organization and agencies.
The group also recommended a process be developed for acknowledging the failures of the Church in her treatment of and relationship with First Nations People and for making a gesture toward healing for those who have experienced trauma, woundedness and suffering.
Monsignor Shora Maree from the Maronite Eparchy presented the proposals from his small group which had reflected upon the question ‘How might parishes better become local centres for formation and animation of missionary disciples?’
The group’s recommendations included the establishment of a Leadership Support Team in each parish, large or small, including the Parish Priest which would assist him in leading his parish to become more missionary.
The group also called for programs that support Parish Renewal, currently being used in several Dioceses and Parishes across Australia be researched for their effectiveness and fruits, taking note of the different contexts, localities and sizes of parishes. It singled out programs launched as part of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Mission Plan, Go Make Disciples, as an example of a leader in this area.
“It was shared in our group that the Holy Spirit through Pope Francis has unleashed the call to Mission of the Church that cannot be put back into a bottle”, Mons Shora said.
“In their call to be missionary hubs, parishes are being called to be centres nourished by Christ in the Eucharist and to be ‘Eucharist’ to those hungering for him in the world”.
Alongside parish renewal, recommendations have also emerged from the First Assembly around the need for a stronger focus on vocational awareness at the parish, diocesan and national level.
There was a call for a dedicated Year of Prayer for Vocations and that the Catholic Church in Australia establish national and local advocates for each of marriage, priesthood, religious life and the universal vocation of the baptised.
Recommendations were also put forward on the future of Catholic education and how it might be seen more through a missionary lens.
The group which focused on this question called for a discussion over coming months on ways to strengthen partnerships between schools and parishes and for a stronger focus on rich prayer experiences that allow students to encounter Christ.
The same group also called for Catholic secondary schools and Catholic tertiary institutions to more closely work together to build a bridge that supports young people to help ensure they remain engaged with the faith and not lost at this important period of transition in their lives.
At a Plenary Council Mass on the final working day of the First Assembly, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli emphasised the important and privileged position the Members of the Council have in the life of the Catholic Church in Australia.
“Indeed our work throughout this Assembly has meant to be the work of unveiling the Spirit of the Lord, whose light is to shine into the shadow of our minds and hearts, to reveal for all of the faithful the face of Christ in the local Church in Australia today”, Archbishop Comensoli said in his homily livestreamed from St Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I am sure that there has been invigorating conversation and productive engagement over the past days, leading to (we all hope) the propositions which will form the basis of the final stages of the Plenary Council. But let us not lose sight of our primary task here: that is, to reveal through our deliberations the face of Christ among us, so that He might be reflected in the face of his Body, the Church in Australia, at this time and in our places”.
Archbishop Comensoli said the Catholic Church in Australia is blessed by its great cultural diversity.
“The particular face of Christ we are to unveil is also one marked with the lines of a great mixture of ethnicities, languages, cultures and histories; still significantly Anglo-European in heritage, but becoming ever more Asian and sub-continental in appearance.
We are the people Christ now calls to go out into the depths of missionary endeavour, there to find a catch, but also to be caught ourselves”.