Focus on faith in city’s best-known beach suburb
It’s one of the world’s most sought-after destinations to live and visit on holiday, and its new parish priest hopes to put Bondi on the map in a different way – as a place where people want to gather and be changed by encounter with Christ and his Church.
Fr Anthony Robbie has been in the iconic seaside suburb for a couple of months and lost no time in beginning to lay the groundwork to restore the parish from a state he describes as “challenging” both physically and spiritually.
The beautiful, Neo-Romanesque buildings, St Anne’s Shrine near the beach and St Patrick’s Church in Bondi Road, have not only accumulated a century of grime but stand mostly empty week after week with a total combined Sunday congregation of around 150 people.
“We need to come up with some dynamic methods of evangelising the local people in order to survive as a parish.”
“We’re at a pretty low ebb at the moment with a Mass attendance rate that seems to be below two per cent [of resident Catholics],” he told The Catholic Weekly. “We need to come up with some dynamic methods of evangelising the local people in order to survive as a parish. We are hitting the ground running. There’s no reason to sit around and let things fester and get worse, we have to act right now.”
High on the priest’s ‘to do’ list was to call on the help of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation and he said he was delighted at the quality of advice and the practical support it offers to parishes.
“They told us things we didn’t know about our own community, for example, that we have the largest number of young adults in our diocese here in our parish,” Fr Robbie said. “Almost 50 percent of the young people in this parish are aged between 20 and 39. We know who comes through our doors, but it’s extremely important to know who is not coming through our doors.”
Fr Robbie was among the priests and deacons from across Sydney who gathered with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Bishops Terry Brady and Richard Umbers at Le Montage in Lilyfield for a clergy conference last Tuesday.
It was a chance for clergy to reconnect in person after a year of COVID-safe online gatherings, reflect on the Church’s mission in the light of social trends across the city and cultural trends generally, learn more about the archdiocese’s mission plan, Go Make Disciples, and what help is available to improve or revitalise parishes from the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation.
Centre Director Daniel Ang and Parish Renewal Implementation Manager Elizabeth Arblaster unpacked the Go Make Disciples resource, which was launched by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP last December and is encouraging parish priests and their leadership teams across the city.
“It was a significant day to break open the vision of discipleship and the practical resources that Go Make Disciples makes available to our parishes and chaplaincies in this new chapter of evangelisation,” said Mr Ang.
Fr Robbie says that some of the people already keen to work with him in renewing the Bondi parish, include a number of young adults and a part time music director who will be new to the struggling community.
He has been focussed on improving the physical aspects of the church including cleaning sandstone, replacing the signage, and planning a new website, logo and stationery. Longer term the plan includes a focus on liturgies and establishing “very many programs” with the hope of making Bondi a vital centre for worship, formation, evangelisation, and social outreach.
“We’re providing an inviting environment, then for step two which is the evangelical outreach a lot more work is involved and I need collaborators to assist in this work. “I don’t have all those people yet and I’m praying for God to send them to me,” he said.
“The most important renovation of a parish has to be its spiritual renovation. Consequently, leading of people to a greater understanding of the Catholic faith is the most important thing, and everything else flows on from there.
“I don’t know if it will all work out or not but I’m going to give it a go. I can have all these strategies lined up but in the end having God as head of this operation is a very big part of the deal for me.”