Plenary voices: wake up, Catholic Australia! urges Archbishop Fisher

This is the intervention given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Plenary Council on the Feast of St Francis, 4 October 2021

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP lays flowers at the feet of a statue of Mary after Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral celebrated for the Plenary Council and its First Assembly. The pre-recorded Mass was livestreamed on Wednesday 6 October. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Fires, floods, plague and earthquake: they’re wake up calls.

Wake up Catholic Australia! There’s a bushfire consuming faith in this land. Disillusionment over child sexual abuse has accelerated the secularisation of recent decades. Many now identify with no particular religion, institutional identity has corroded, young people are inoculated to faith by the culture, and some churchgoers are out of sorts with Catholic teaching. This Council must consider how we’ll proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those without faith, those needing more formation and those yet to embrace their true identity as missionary disciples.

Wake up to the flood of non-practice! Entire demographics are missing. Too few now take part in Mass and Reconciliation. Volunteers and resources are thin on the ground. Family, parish and school are all under stress when we need them most. With the flood-alarm of disengagement sounding, we need common pastoral action to rekindle enthusiasm and inspire active participation in the Eucharistic community.

Wake up to the pandemic of moral confusion. Judeo-Christian influence on law and culture has waned, conscience rights are threatened, and people of faith driven from the public square. Just lately Australia has adopted some of the world’s most extreme abortion, euthanasia, marriage and sexuality laws. Pope Francis calls us to stand with those pushed to the peripheries of the throwaway society: the unborn and dying. Also the disabled, elderly and mentally ill, trafficked or pornographized, refugees and homeless. And dispossessed First Australians—so generously sharing knowledge about reconciliation and healing. Our Council must drive new adventures in preaching the Gospel of Life and Love, Justice and Mercy, in unpacking Catholic morality for the faithful, and in being voices and servants of ‘the little ones’.

Wake up: the vocational grounding of the Church is shaking. Sacramental marriage is in free fall and marriages failing. Religious are an endangered species. Good Shepherdly priests are sorely needed to provide sacraments, pastoral leadership and evangelisation. We look to this Council for new approaches to promoting, discerning and forming people for these crucial vocations, as well as the baptismal vocation in the world, to strengthening Christian identity and sustaining mission.

“Francis, my Church is in ruins: rebuild my Church,” Our Lord said to St Francis and to us. On his feast day we recognise that the Church in Australia has many strengths to build on: in the faith and generosity of its people, in its extraordinary network of institutions, above all in the Holy Spirit of this Great South Land. Alert to what should alarm us, but confident in God’s grace, we can respond to the signs of our times—with intelligence and humility, patience and hope, compassion and fidelity.