05 May 2021
Assembly with a difference
The Southern Cross | May 2021
For decades now, diocesan assemblies have been part of the repertoire of the Archdiocese of Adelaide, yet there’s something strikingly new about the 2021 Diocesan Assembly.
The first diocesan assembly after Vatican II was held in 1965, with a ground-breaking assembly held over a weekend in December 1985, and a ‘Spring Gathering’ in 2016.
On September 17 and 18 this year, delegates nominated from each region of the Archdiocese will gather with Archbishop O’Regan at Cabra College, Cumberland Park, to reflect on the life of our community, and to discern how we can more fully embrace our calling to be the People of God in this place. The event is being organised by a small committee led by Sarah Moffatt from the Archbishop’s office.
In preparation for the September gathering, contributions will be sought from each member of the Catholic community. To facilitate this consultation, we’ve embraced the digital revolution! A brief video at Sunday Mass will explain the purpose of the assembly, and parishioners will be invited to respond to the assembly’s key concerns via ‘postcards’ provided on the pews. The video and digital postcards will also be available on the Archdiocesan website.
Two things are strikingly new about the 2021 Diocesan Assembly. First, it takes place in the lead up to the first session of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia. This is the first Plenary Council to be held in Australia since Vatican II – indeed, the first since 1937. Because the Plenary Council is such a momentous event, Archbishop O’Regan is keen that our Archdiocese participate in it as fully as possible. The Diocesan Assembly will, therefore, consider some of the key concerns of the Plenary Council, and the Archdiocese of Adelaide’s seven delegates to the Plenary Council will be vital participants at the Diocesan Assembly.
The second strikingly new dimension of the 2021 Diocesan Assembly is that it takes place during Pope Francis’ leadership. The point here is not simply a matter of the Pope’s personality! Since 2013 Pope Francis has been leading Catholics to understand the significance of a key teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and to develop our common life accordingly.
Francis has focused on Vatican II’s understanding of the Church as the ‘People of God’ – a people journeying on the paths of history toward God; a people being transformed by God’s mercy. So, Francis sees that the church must be the place of renegotiated mercy, where all can feel themselves welcomed and loved, where they experience pardon and can feel encouraged to live according to the good life of the gospel (Cardinal Kasper on Pope Francis).
With this understanding of the Church in mind, Francis has urged bishops and all of God’s people toward a synodal mode of life – toward communal discernment – in order to give direction to our common life. In a major address to the Synod of Bishops in 2015, Francis stressed the need for this discernment: “A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening ‘is more than feeling.’ It’s a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn14:17), to know what the Spirit ‘is saying to the Churches’ (Rev 2:7).”
Over the past millennium, the Roman Catholic Church has been slow to embrace this type of discernment for the whole body of the faithful. But Vatican II has taught that such discernment is integral to the faith of the Church and Pope Francis has named synodality as an essential characteristic of Church life and pointed out that diocesan assemblies are the initial level of synodality. As a whole people, however, we’re just ‘getting into the swing’ of the practice of communal discernment.
It is for this reason that our Diocesan Assembly 2021 is strikingly new – and important. It’s a key moment in our Archdiocese’s common response to the Holy Spirit, and in our being a more synodal Church.
Fr James McEvoy is a priest of the Archdiocese, and teaches theology at Australian Catholic University, Adelaide