Pope Francis has sent greetings and blessings from Rome to the nearly 280 members gathering for the First Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
In a message signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Cardinal wrote that “Pope Francis prays that the Council may be a graced occasion for mutual listening and spiritual discernment, marked by profound Communion with the Successor of Peter”.
The pontiff said the Plenary Council “represents a singular journeying together of God’s people in Australia along the paths of history towards a renewed encounter with the Risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
The letter from Pope Francis was read out to the Plenary Council members at the opening session of the First Assembly by Mons John Baptist Itaruma from the Apostolic Nunciature in Australia.
The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, in a message to Pope Francis, said the Council’s 278 members are “deeply conscious that the Plenary Council takes its place within the universal Church”.
Archbishop Coleridge said he hoped the Plenary Council would be a gift not just for the Church in Australia, but for the Church around the world.
“Pope St John Paul II described the Second Vatican Council as ‘the great grace given to the Church in the twentieth century’ (Novo Millenio Ineunte). For us, the Plenary Council is the great grace given to the Church in Australia at the dawn of the twenty-first century”, he said.
The Plenary Council has attracted a great deal of international interest with observers and guests including the President of the Asian Catholic Bishops Conferences, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong and the President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops of Oceania, Archbishop Anton Bal.
The Pacific region is well represented amongst the observers with the Archbishop of Wellington and President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal John Dew attending, along with the Bishop of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, Paul Donoghue.
Plenary Council President and Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe said there are high hopes and great expectations from the gathering and rightly so.
“We come as representatives of the People of God in Australia. We carry with us, as a privilege and as a responsibility, the precious and sometimes fragile faith of God’s people; we carry their hopes and dreams, their pain and suffering, their joy and their optimism, their fears and their hesitations”, he said.
We have not been called to advance any particular agenda, be it our own or someone else’s. We have been called to enter into a sacred space, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to listen deeply for the voice and to be alert to the leadings of the Holy Spirit
“The task we share together, therefore, is not that of being a representative voice for any one organisation, or ministry, or spirituality within the Church. We have not been called to advance any particular agenda, be it our own or someone else’s. We have been called to enter into a sacred space, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to listen deeply for the voice and to be alert to the leadings of the Holy Spirit, as these emerge through all the different elements of our week together, and as they have emerged and matured over the years of our preparation for this moment”.
The opening session of the Plenary Council was chaired by a proud representative from the Maronite Eparchy of Australia attending the Council, Mrs Theresa Simon.
She said the Catholic Church in Australia was blessed by great cultural diversity which is reflected in the presence of Eastern Rite church representatives at the Plenary Council.
“My parents hailed from small villages in the Kadisha Valley in Lebanon, the holy valley of the saints, and like so many of us gathered here, our forebears left their home countries from all corners of the world, bringing with them their Catholic faith”, Mrs Simon explained.
“Together we gather in the rich tapestry of diversity, joined here together in One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and all made to drink of One Spirit.”
“Here from my home in western Sydney where we perhaps have seen more poignantly the consequences of COVID-19 in recent months, I know we’re all mindful of the sickness, death, lockdowns, border closures, separation from loved-ones and uncertainty of the future. In all this though, we as Catholics know of hope, that the world will begin to open again and we’re deeply grateful for the miracles of science and the work of front-line workers. We pray that the months ahead bring relief to the many here in Australia and around the world who are suffering at this time”, she added.