The Plenary Council’s opening phase concluded in March, with more than 220,000 people sharing their stories and considering the question, “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”
Plenary Council coordinators from the Diocese of Sale, Archdiocese of Brisbane and Diocese of Darwin — part of a network of more than 40 local coordinators across the nation – told Media Blog the Listening and Dialogue process has had a profound and nourishing impact on people in their communities.
Sophy Morley, diocesan coordinator for liturgy and pastoral ministry for the Sale Diocese, said it had been encouraging to see people in her diocese take up the opportunity to get involved.
“I think that the Plenary process to date has really emphasised the wonderful and sometimes challenging diversity of all of us who make up the Church in Australia. Our culture, ethnicity, faith experiences and life circumstances all provide a rich tapestry for various views and concerns to be expressed,” she said.
“It has also highlighted the urgent need for clergy and laity to engage deeply with each other and to acknowledge that the involvement of lay people should be a given, as co-responsible partners in the mission of Christ.
“I think that the whole process, from information meetings through to training of Plenary animators and local Listening and Dialogue gatherings, has been a wonderful catalyst for prayer, reflection, sharing and renewal.”
Mrs Morley said the Plenary Council process had been the inspiration for calling the Sale Diocesan Assembly, to be held in September this year. Several parishes have begun initiatives for prayer and pastoral ministry in their own communities, responding to hopes expressed during Listening and Dialogue gatherings.
“Pope Francis’s message of synodality, which has been the characteristic of the Plenary process, has excited and enthused people who are hopeful that this pattern of engagement may become the normative way of discerning, promoting and living the mission of Christ,” she said.
“The Listening and Dialogue process has been an amazing gift for us as it fosters active and careful listening and provides us with permission to say what is stirring in our hearts.
“Although people may have felt awkward and unsure initially, it has been heartening to see some wonderful sharing and passionate and respectful discussion.
“For many, it was the first time that they had been asked about their faith. It is encouraging that so many of our respondents have expressed hope for the future, given as it comes in the midst of a turbulent and difficult time for the Church in Australia and globally.”
Clalia Mar and Lindsay Luck, the Diocese of Darwin’s Plenary Council 2020 coordinators, said they had seen some wonderful first steps during the Listening and Dialogue process.
Ms Mar likened it to when a child first starts walking – a “bit wobbly and unsure, but slowly growing in confidence”.
“In that way, it is a practice that we need to repeat over and over so that it becomes us,” she said.
“To start with, people were a bit wary of the openness of the process, but as they became engaged there was a feeling of being empowered and perhaps more open to the fact that they were genuinely being called to be a part of the process, not simply accept the decisions post the Council.
“We believe that people will feel more confident and affirmed when they see their contributions reflected in the themes to be collated.
“It is our hope that this Plenary process strengthens our collective resolve to become a more synodal Church. This is an opportunity to make the Church more Christ-like.”
“Hearing people share their stories of their faith and faith-journey has been an absolute privilege and has touched us greatly.”
Eric Robinson, Brisbane Archdiocese’s Plenary Council 2020 coordinator, has observed the beginnings of a shift in the way people are “Church”.
“I think this change that has started will take time, and my hope is that the Plenary may one day be acknowledged as the moment that a shift was felt nationwide,” he said.
“For many lay people, it is the first time they may feel that the Church is seeking their input on the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.
“This is counter cultural if we take into context the history of the Church in Australia (and wider world).
“The numbers bear that out also when you see over 220,000 people participated in the first phase of the Plenary journey. These are significant numbers of people who have given their time to participate. This fact alone gives me great hope for the future of the Church in Australia.
“As a father of three young children, my aspiration for the Council is that this culture change will begin to take place. This is a critical moment in the history of the Church both in Australia and globally.”
Mr Robinson said he is working with the local team to organise the Brisbane Assembly on October 4-5, part of the next phase of the Plenary Council: Listening and Discernment.
For more information about the Plenary Council 2020 process, visit the Plenary Council website.