It’s been 12 months since the Archdiocese launched its plans for missionary renewal. Looking back over the past year, it’s clear that the faith of Sydney Catholics is the soil from which renewal will emerge as parishes, chaplaincies and movements rediscover their gifts and call.
As we look back on an extraordinary year in our lives and the life of our Church, we give thanks for the thousands of Sydney Catholics who have been a part of the opening year of Go Make Disciples and the opportunities for formation and community it has enabled together with our priests, communities, keynote speakers both local and afar, apostolic groups and movements.
The diversity and scale of the Archdiocese continues to bring forth new possibilities for mission, even in these most challenging of times, as the work of implementation begins.
It is true that this second year of pandemic and related restrictions have had a significant and continuing impact on our parishes and ecclesial communities, on our ability to gather in worship and to share pastoral life. However, the past year has also thrown light on the capacity of our communities to adapt and change in order to remain faithful to the mission given by Christ, to ‘go, make disciples’ in every age and every season.
If Pope Francis was once concerned that parishes can become stuck in “unacceptable stagnation and in worryingly repetitive pastoral cycles”, the global pandemic has put an end even to that prospect.
Mere “maintenance” is no longer possible in our cultural and historical circumstance, whether one considers the global pandemic or the increasing implications of secularisation. The Church and its local communities must embrace the mission of evangelisation and deepening discipleship or face the real prospect of accelerated decline.
Our Response in Sydney
The vision of Go Make Disciples for Sydney is marked by a Christian hope that engages these challenging realities but sees in this changing landscape genuine opportunities for the perennial light of the Gospel and the pastoral creativity of our communities to express themselves anew.
Hope recognises the present moment is not, in truth, the whole and more is always possible than our experience of the present. It lives by the conviction that the gifts of each season are only discovered by entering into its challenge.
In our conversations and workshops with our seminarians and priests, as well as deacons and religious earlier this year, in the engagement of lay men and women in our various spiritual retreats and formation opportunities, in our support of parish pastoral councils, sacramental preparation processes, communications workshops, pilgrimages and parenting and marriage events online and in person, the gifts and charisms of the Body of Christ in Sydney have been manifest.
It is not programs or plans that will make disciples, but disciples that make disciples. It is our people and our communities who will shape the future of Sydney in responding to God’s grace.
In Go Make Disciples, our Archdiocese recognises that renewed Catholic life, culture and mission means forming disciples, a project that has everything to do with helping individuals to discover a living and personal faith in the midst of the Church. It is this conviction that drives the works and witness shared on these pages.
An Opportune Time
As shared by Archbishop Anthony at the launch of this new chapter of evangelisation one year ago, the sheer practicality and range and depth of practical ideas in Go Make Disciples reflects the size, gifts and opportunities that make so much more possible for the Church of Sydney than for many dioceses.
While we have only begun to bring the vision of Go Make Disciples to life we know it has arrived at an opportune, even providential, time. It is a time in which Australians are thinking more about God, praying more, and weighing up the things that really matter in their life. It is a time in which faith is increasingly a personal and intentional choice rather than a mere cultural inheritance. In this sense we may, as has been suggested, be at the dawn of Christian life.
Australians are thinking more about God, praying more, and weighing up the things that really matter in their life.
It is a time in which our communities must look again at their pastoral life, aware of changing trends in community engagement, resources and the wider culture to which each has a mission, and it is a time in which our clergy and other pastoral leaders are seeking formation and opportunities to equip their people for the mission to which Christ calls His people.
The Year to Come
Now we celebrate the fruit of only this first year of our mission plan as it begins to come to real life. We look forward to the pastoral possibilities ahead, working together with our parishes to assist in those areas that impact on mission at the coalface, the ministry of so many of our ordained each and every day, and that will in many respects shape the discipleship and opportunities for Christian conversion for generations yet to come.
We know that the pastoral initiatives of the future must take account of the route by which people today and new generations will find themselves engaged in a life of faith if we are to avoid the stagnation of parish life and embed Jesus’ commission to make disciples at the heart of all that we do.
This has shaped our plans for the new year including ‘Parishes for Mission Days’ in regions and parishes of the Archdiocese, formation series, conferences and renewed pilgrimages, ministry to men and a developing women’s network, fresh approaches to youth ministry and engaging formation, new forms of support for sacramental coordinators, training for parish pastoral councils, and opportunities for prayer and worship.
As we anticipate the year to come and give thanks for the year past, we wish you, your families and communities a most Blessed Christmas, a time of renewed hope, community and that Christian joy which is the experience of being loved. You remain in the prayers of our teams here in the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation as we anticipate the newborn Christ, our hope and stay, and the source of our life and renewal.