By Hazel Lim
In 2023, the Life, Marriage and Family (LMF) team in the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation celebrated the dignity of life and families, offering a wide variety of spiritual and formational opportunities that enabled families to deepen and grow their faith, as domestic churches that are equipped to share the joy of the Gospel with others.
We began the year with a gathering of 1000 people from Sydney and surrounds at the “Made for More” presentations with Dr Christopher West and Mike Mangione, launching SCE’s three-year partnership with the Theology of the Body (TOB) Institute in the USA.
Since then, the TOB movement has strengthened, garnering nationwide attendance of the Australian online TOB courses offered by the Institute with local facilitation by SCE.
The fervent participation and growth of the faithful in the Archdiocese of Sydney cannot be understated when it comes to RCIA.
This ancient and official pathway into the church, laid down by the early church, is not only the inspiration for all evangelisation in the church but has been the way parishes in Sydney have journeyed with people into the household of God.
This year’s Rite of Election saw 179 catechumens and candidates enter the church, encroaching pre-lockdown numbers.
Furthermore, their parish priests, religious, RCIA team members, and parishioners were there to accompany and support them, raising the celebration at St Mary’s Cathedral to over 600 participants.
Encouragingly, the number of parishes engaging in RCIA has grown this year, with 110 participating in the RCIA online certification course.
The LMF team also continues to support our sacramental coordinators with resources and new dynamic formation approaches, to assist with forming and evangelising children and their parents.
This year, coordinators and catechists were introduced to the SALT Approach which incorporates Montessori and Cavelletti elements to help children receive a hands-on and sensory formation experience of the liturgy, the mystery behind the sacraments and its effects.
In May, we brought out international Catholic speaker and evangelist, Chris Padgett, offering married couples an opportunity to renew their relationship and vows at “Called to Love” events.
Chris also assisted in the formation of engaged couples at our archdiocesan “Of Life and Love” marriage preparation course, where he shared his years of experience working with couples.
We also began working with four Sydney parishes to pilot a parish-based sacramental marriage preparation program that is both formational and missionary.
“Witness to Love” facilitates the building of trust-filled relationships between faithful married couples and engaged couples that can provide both with a lifeline back to the church and the grace of their sacrament when faced with the inevitable challenges of married life.
In an age of fragmented relationships, marriage ministry is a crucial meeting point between the church’s healing grace and the needs of those in the pews and in the wider community.
Cultivating active local marriage ministry offers many couples the opportunity to renew their relationship which positively affects the wellbeing of their family.
By equipping “ordinary” couples with skills to share the witness of their marriage, we have also seen an increase in the confidence of laity to renew their parish communities.
The inaugural Life, Marriage and Family Sunday was celebrated in October where we honoured marriages and families with a special blessing at Mass from Bishop Richard Umbers.
Those celebrating signification anniversaries were then presented with certificates at the celebration afterwards.
The LMF team held quite a few events catering for men under the Maximus Men’s Ministry and for women under the Catholic Women’s Network banners.
The St Joseph Camino Pilgrimage saw over 300 men process the streets of Sydney overnight.
It was a wonderful witness of faith and brotherhood as they journeyed together praying the rosary, visiting surrounding parishes for adoration and prayer along the way.
The men’s ministry leaders were supported throughout the year, including a leadership and networking night with Dn Harold Burke-Sivers from the US.
Later in the year, we held the first archdiocesan men’s conference “Be Not Afraid” at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Men from all over Sydney and neighbouring dioceses listened to keynote presentations, testimonies and were blessed with the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Women from across Sydney had opportunities to gather, connect and pray at various Catholic Women’s Network events throughout the year including the Lenten prayer groups, International Women’s Day adoration night and, in partnership with the MGL sisters, the El Roi Women’s Weekend Retreat.
We also saw the launch of the Catholic Women’s Network pilot mentoring program, where women mentors and mentees engage in a 6 month ‘accompaniment’ journey, walking together towards Christ.
The LMF team capped off the year with spectacular events for the whole family with world renowned speakers Matt Fradd from Pints with Aquinas and Jason Evert from the Chastity Project.