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Sydney’s parishes: In our own words

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A church of many faces: Fiji Catholic Community during the 2019 Multicultural Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral. The diverse makeup of many Sydney parishes is a gift to the Church. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Themes of feedback from Archdiocesan consultations say much about planning for our Church’s future

Over the past years, there have been various conversations and dialogue about parish culture and the task of parish renewal.

As a spiritual home where Christ is encountered in the midst of community, our parishes have nurtured the faith of hundreds of thousands across the years and continue to do so.

This ongoing dialogue about parish life has been a focus of the ‘Parish 2020’ process here in the Archdiocese of Sydney as well as in the context of the national Plenary Council to commence in October.

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Multiple voices have contributed

These voices of clergy, religious and lay faithful, in our deaneries, parishes, migrant communities, schools and agencies provide rich insight into the lived experience and aspirations of our people.

It is these voices that will shape our Archdiocesan Mission Plan to be released later this year.

In the thousands of individual and group submissions received over this time, a number of themes have been prominent.

Common themes

The celebration of the multicultural reality of our parishes, a gift upheld by our statistics which affirm that of all Australian dioceses Sydney has the highest proportion of Catholics born in non-English speaking countries (31.4 per cent), was one of them.

The Archdiocese is also home to the highest proportion of Catholics who speak a language other than English at home (6.1 per cent).

A strong sense of belonging to local parish was expressed in many submissions made toward the Parish 2020 process together with a sober acknowledgment of the greying of congregations and a strong desire for renewed outreach to young people.

A desire to evangelise

Another emphasis in responses was the need for evangelisation across the board – bringing others into discipleship of Jesus Christ and deepening our own encounter with Him.

While there was not always clarity on the way in which to go about it, a common desire for outreach to the unchurched and ongoing conversion reflects the change that is being experienced in parish life on the ground.

Engagement with weekly Eucharist has diminished while there is marked variation in participation rates across the Archdiocese.

Faithful come to venerate the relics of saints Therese of Lisieux and her parents Louis and Zelie Martin at St Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday 1 February 2019. A common desire for outreach to the unchurched and ongoing conversion was a strong theme of feedback received by the Archdiocese of Sydney as it considers priorities for the future.  Photo: Giovanni Portelli

In some parishes the weekly attendance rate is as high as 57.6 per cent; in others as low as 2.3 per cent (the national average is 11.8 per cent). We know it is common for Cathedral parishes or city parishes (such as Church Hill) to have higher than average attendance rates, as the Masses attract people from outside of the parish geography.

It is worth noting that while the total Catholic population of a parish is based on those living within the parish, the Mass count is calculated on anyone who was at Mass on the day whether they lived in the parish or not, including visitors.

Affiliation with the Catholic faith has also declined, upholding the focus on evangelisation that was prominent in the Parish 2020 responses gathered to date.

The 2016 Census confirmed that there has been a net decline in the number of the people in the Archdiocese identifying as Catholic though the total population of Sydney continues to grow.

A multicultural church: Sydney’s Vietnamese Catholic community celebrates the Lunar New Year during the Australia Day long weekend.  Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Other themes that emerged in the Parish 2020 submissions and those forwarded to the Plenary Council from Sydney Catholics included: the importance of prayer, the sacraments, Scripture and enlivening liturgy and music; the importance of leadership and good governance, and the desire for increased shared responsibility and for planning at a parish level.

Connecting parishes and schools

Also voiced was the need to build strong connections between parishes and schools, the need to encourage the engagement of school families in parish life; the challenge of encouraging succession in pastoral ministry, recruiting new leaders into parish ministry; the financial situation of some parishes and increasing costs; and the opportunities presented by social media for outreach among Catholics and to the broader community.

A summary of this feedback and further information about our parishes, provided by clergy and laity through episcopal visitations, through advisory bodies such as the Council of Priests and the Council of Deans, and through survey submissions of the Parish 2020 process will be available in our Archdiocesan Mission Plan.

It is important that these voices are heard and shared as each sheds important light on the pastoral reality of our life, our faith and our future as Sydney Catholics.


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