Australia’s Catholic bishops have used a weeks-long process of prayer and discernment to identify three priorities to guide the work of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
The recommendation to identify priorities for the Bishops Conference arose from a structured review of Conference operations and financing undertaken in 2019.
Earlier this year, the bishops were guided through a process of shared discernment, punctuated with prayer and conversation, by Br Ian Cribb SJ. Br Ian had earlier led the retreat the bishops made together immediately before their 2019 Ad Limina Apostolorum visit.
Following the three sessions, which involved the identification and ranking of possible priorities, the bishops approved the three priorities at their recent plenary meeting.
They are: Formation; Becoming More Missionary; and Fostering Collegiality.
“It is important to note that these are priorities for the Bishops Conference to pursue, which includes the various bishops commissions, the work of the general secretariat and the biannual plenary meetings,” Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
“These were not developed to be priorities for the Catholic Church in Australia, though many dioceses, parishes and other ministries are no doubt focusing on one or more of these priorities.”
The Conference’s ongoing priorities are also reflected in the work of its nine bishops commissions and two episcopal panels, which will take on new focus in light of the new priorities named.
Archbishop Coleridge said the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia will have an important role in shaping priorities for the Church nationally.
“We’ve already seen during the three years of the Council journey so far how key topics and concerns are being identified, and the Council assemblies will help refine those further,” he said.
“These priorities we have developed specifically for the Bishops Conference will help the work we undertake as a college of bishops, to make important decisions and to tread a path that pursues formation, collegiality and a missionary disposition.”
Br Ian said he was impressed with the way the bishops engaged with the process of discernment – individually, in small groups and as a collective.
“Bishops are very busy men. It was encouraging to see them take the time during the three sessions and in between sessions to reflect and pray about their shared ministry as members of a Bishops Conference, not just leaders of their dioceses,” he said.
“Following on from their 2019 retreat and in preparing for the Plenary Council, the bishops are finding opportunities to practise the skills of discernment that will be valuable for their ministry.”