Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB says he’s expecting another flood of responses from people across the country during the final five weeks of the “Listening and Dialogue” phase of the Council.
In the eight months since the Listening and Dialogue period commenced at Pentecost, more than 40,000 people have either made a submission or participated in a group discussion that culminated in a submission.
“Given it’s more than 80 years since the last Plenary Council in Australia and given, too, the changes in the Church and society since then, it was impossible to know how many people would take part in this historic process,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“To stand here, five weeks from the end of this pivotal opening phase, it is both exciting and humbling to have heard from such large numbers of people and for them to have shared their stories of faith and hope, but also their stories of despair and heartbreak.
“Each of those stories is valuable and meaningful. So will be the stories we receive between now and Ash Wednesday.”
Lana Turvey-Collins, the Plenary Council facilitator, said the Christmas period, as expected, saw another spike in the number of responses.
“We knew that many people who have a longstanding connection with Catholic life and culture, if not the weekly ritual of the Church, would attend Christmas Masses and welcome the opportunity to consider the question ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?’,” she said.
“Our Christmas card campaign with local dioceses and parishes was designed to encourage everyone to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help the Church and its people consider our present and our future.”
Ms Turvey-Collins said while the Listening and Dialogue phase will conclude on Ash Wednesday (March 6), collaboration – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – will be a constant throughout the three-year journey.
She said the National Centre for Pastoral Research, using best-practice analysis methods, will identify key themes and topic areas that have emerged during the Listening and Dialogue period. They will be the focal points for the next step in the process.
“After Easter, when we will receive the objective analysis of the tens of thousands of voices that have contributed to this process, we will move into the next stage of the preparation phase: ‘Listening and Discernment’,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
“People will continually be invited to participate in the Plenary Council, which is both a finite period of time, but also a transformative moment for the Church in Australia, which we expect will be more focused on dialogue and partnership in the years following the Council.”
Archbishop Costelloe said bishops are keen to understand what their communities have been saying during the Listening and Dialogue process, mindful that some issues are local in nature.
“Some of the changes that are being and will continue to be discussed may well need to happen at the parish or diocesan level, rather than national, so we bishops need to be attuned to that and ready to respond in a timely fashion,” he said.
Visit the Plenary Council website at www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au