Plenary 2021 goes online

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP presents a candle symbolising the light of the Plenary to Sydney delegate Francine Pirola. The event will now be held online due to Covid lockdowns. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Plenary will be in a strong position to address key issues

The First Assembly of the Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia in over 80 years will be held largely online in October in a direct response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions.

It is the first such gathering for the Australian Church since 1937 and the first time laypeople have attended a Plenary Council, tasked with discussing the future of the Catholic Church in this country.

“There’ll be an opportunity in the program to still join in a virtual prayer each morning … regardless of whether they are members or not.” Sr josephine Brady rsj

A Plenary Council is the highest form of gathering of local church and has legislative and governance authority, with the decisions made at the Council becoming binding for the Catholic Church in Australia. This is distinct from a Synod, which does not have this legislative and governance authority.

Plans to hold an in-person gathering of 280 members of the first Plenary Council in Adelaide from 3-10 October have been abandoned and replaced with each member now participating in the assembly from their own homes.

Plenary Council facilitator, Lana Turvey-Collins said a huge amount of work had gone into preparing for the Council to be held in hubs, with each member participating on their own device.

“As a result, this shift to most people participating from home is a pivot rather than a major detour from what we were planning”, she said. “We are receiving exceptional support from technical experts within and beyond the Church to ensure that we can make the virtual assembly one that allows for the prayer, conversation, listening and discernment we’ve hoped for all along”.

A Plenary candle stands in St Mary’s Cathedral, symbolising the light of Jesus. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Sr Josephine Brady RSJ from the Plenary Council Working Group in the Archdiocese of Sydney said the 20 representatives from the Archdiocese were looking forward to the event and to join in the national conversation around the direction of the Church in Australia.

“There’ll be an opportunity in the program to still join in a virtual prayer each morning which will indeed be open to all Australians, regardless of whether they are members or not, to join in, as well as watching the opening part of the first session of the Plenary Council program each day”, Sr Josephine said.

The online delivery will also allow for some small group discussions of only 10 representatives as well as flexibility to allow for larger online discussions of 30 or more people”, she added.

Br Ian Cribb SJ is leading an online Parish Ambassadors Gathering on 28 August which is open to 100 representatives from across the Archdiocese of Sydney, on the theme “Spiritual Conversations”.

Plans for the public livestreaming of some parts of each day of the Plenary Assembly remain in place and some liturgies, including the Opening and Closing Masses will be celebrated online.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will be the principal celebrant for the Opening Mass for the Sydney delegates at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday 3 October at 10:30am which will be livestreamed on St Mary’s Cathedral’s You Tube channel. The Closing Mass will take place a week later and also be livestreamed from St Mary’s Cathedral.

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It is expected that, in some areas not affected by lockdowns, members will gather in small numbers for prayer, fellowship and socialising. The Sydney delegates represent all states of life in the Church, from laity to bishops, parish priests, theologians, philosophers and religious, men and women.

Alongside Archbishop Fisher and Auxiliary Bishops Terry Brady and Richard Umbers, lay representatives at the Assembly include ACU Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Hayden Ramsay, family and marriage advocate, Mrs Francine Pirola and Professor Renee Kohler-Ryan from the University of Notre Dame Australia.

Plenary Council Working Group member, Sr Jo Brady believes the members are in a unique position to help guide a new sense of hope and renewal for the Catholic Church in Australia. “The Plenary will be in a strong position to respond to the needs of the poor, our Indigenous peoples and discuss the important role women play in the Church, all guided by a spirit of mutual dialogue, conversation and reflection”, she said.

The move towards entirely online delivery comes after the first Assembly was postponed in October 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sydney will host the second Assembly of the Plenary Council from 4-9 July in 2022.

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