“Every person’s story and experience of faith, and the Church, is important. It is essential that every effort is made to reach out and include as many people as possible, as we endeavour to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church” - Plenary Council 2020
The journey toward the Plenary Council 2020 has helped us prepare to listen to God by listening to one another. The Diocese of Wollongong’s regional listening sessions have been one such opportunity for those in our local area to engage with each other and give feedback on the Australian Bishops’ call to reflect on the future of the Catholic Church in Australia: what are we called to do, who are we called to be, and how we need to change.
Over 30 representatives from Diocesan primary, secondary and congregational schools, the Catholic Education Office, Catholic agencies and parishes gathered with Bishop Brian Mascord at the Xavier Centre in Wollongong earlier this month for the second of four of the Diocese’s regional listening sessions. The first was held in Fairy Meadow in November last year and the third was last Sunday in the Shoalhaven, with the final session planned for the Macarthur region this coming Sunday, 24th February.
The meeting was facilitated by Diocese of Wollongong Plenary Council 2020 Project Officer, John Tubridy, with the support of members of the Plenary 2020 Steering Committee, CEDoW’s Ken Bryant, and CatholicCare’s Trish Cooney.
Mr Tubridy said there had been a positive groundswell across the Diocese to embrace the opportunity to have a say and engage in the Plenary process. The regional listening sessions allowed Local Animators - representatives from each parish trained to facilitate dialogue about Plenary 2020 and communicate feedback from their parish or school - to share their experiences and provide that feedback directly to Bishop Brian.
“It was a time for our Local Animators to mix, talk and share, and engage directly with the Bishop on what matters to their community...and the Bishop was there to listen - hear all the stories and all the reflections,” he said.
CEDoW Head of Catholic Life, Education and Mission (CLEM), Ken Bryant, said the listening sessions had been occasions to examine at a deeper level who we are to be as a Church. He remarked on how this significant moment for dialogue had inspired “many hope-filled conversations of possibility” throughout the sessions.
“The regional listening sessions with Bishop Brian have provided our local parishes, school communities and agencies with a wonderful opportunity to offer to the Bishop reflections and thoughts on the question: ‘What is God asking of the Church of Australia?’” – Ken Bryant, CEDoW Head of CLEM
“With a spirit of hope and trust, communities have embraced this opportunity to express a desire for a prayerful, compassionate, and inclusive Church.”
We are blessed with great diversity in our Catholic Church in Australia, and this was reflected in the sessions, with a mix of insights and perspectives shared about people’s faith, the Church and God in their lives - all with a view to helping shape the upcoming Plenary Council agenda.
Mr Tubridy said it was particularly enriching to hear those present open their hearts and share their extraordinary personal stories, encounters of faith and experiences as Catholics.
“There were such uplifting stories of faith and courage, and such passion for our Church. It was a really powerful experience to sit and share stories and hear how people genuinely feel, what they have to say about the future of the Catholic Church and how they think we can make things better” – John Tubridy, DoW Plenary 2020 Project Officer
“People have had a voice and others have listened without judgement. For many, to share their story was cathartic and it’s meant the process has also been one of healing. People have walked away very energised by the experience,” Mr Tubridy said.
“It’s also been important for schools, parishes and agencies to all hear from each other, building even stronger local connections between the Church’s various branches.
“We’re very grateful to the CEDoW for their support of this process, particularly Ken Bryant who has been at every session and so supportive. We are very appreciative of all the schools and parishioners who have contributed.”
Bishop Brian also expressed his gratitude to those who have attended a listening session and given feedback, and to all our Local Animators for their work in fostering an understanding and strong response to Plenary 2020.
The Diocese’s listening sessions have been a promising demonstration of the ‘synodal’ Church Pope Francis has spoken of – a Church of faith-filled people who speak boldly and with passion, and who listen deeply with an open and humble heart.
They have also highlighted the importance of speaking with one another and telling stories about experiences of faith and the Church, of praying together and listening for God’s voice in one another’s stories. This way of being a community together can help to break down barriers and create more understanding between one another – allowing us to become a Church community that is more loving, vulnerable, welcoming and full of life.
Perhaps in this way, the journey of Plenary Council 2020 may prove to be just as important as the decisions that ultimately come of it.
This Listening and Dialogue phase of the Plenary ends on Ash Wednesday, 6th March. Online submissions can be made here until then.
Over 68,700 submissions have been made to the Plenary Council 2020 so far, including a significant proportion from the Diocese of Wollongong which now leads the nation in the number of submissions made by a Diocese. Read the Plenary 2020 January 2019 Summary of Submissions Report here.