01 Nov 2021
THE LAITY: Members reflect on unique and challenging assembly experience
The Southern Cross November 2021
Members reflect on positive experience of challenging week
Adelaide Archdiocese lay Plenary members Julian Nguyen, Monica Conway and myself spent a week in the Adelaide hub with Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, retired Bishops Greg O’Kelly and Eugene Hurley, Fr Philip Marshall, advisor Fr James McEvoy, Sarah Moffatt, Claire Victory, and John Lochowiak, in the first week of October.
This is the first Plenary Council in Australia for 84 years and the first lay participation. The Church is in some ways in crisis. It has a rich history with much to celebrate but there is hurt and alienation too. There is a need for heartfelt conversations on difficult or contentious issues.
We shared an extraordinary week in our interactions among our Adelaide group outside the formal Plenary sessions. The spirituality, openness, integrity, empathy and compassion of our bishops, priests and members was an experience to behold. Our Archdiocese is blessed to be in good hands.
My discussion group of 27 members dealt with one agenda question on governance for the whole week.
The question was ‘How might the People of God, lay and ordained, women and men, approach governance in the spirit of synodality and co-responsibility for more effective proclamation of the Gospel?’
This group comprised five bishops, eight priests, three nuns, eight lay women and three lay men from across Australia.
Through the week, among this group and also among the 300 members and advisers, there were sometimes diverse views, but a great deal of honest and courageous sharing.
This honoured the many people who had contributed to consultations a couple of years ago when patterns of critical issues were identified.
Information from the week will be reviewed and preparations made for the second Plenary Council assembly next July, when voting will occur. It is already clear that significant initiatives will flow from that.
Our recent Archdiocesan Assembly and the global Synod of Bishops leading into 2023, in combination with our Australian Plenary week in July, will see the Church enter a period of change locally, nationally and internationally.
To have been a part of the first assembly of the Plenary Council was a very blessed experience. With four young children, having the opportunity to go solo to daily Mass or even spend an uninterrupted hour in prayer is not even dreamt of. So for this aspect alone I was very blessed.
However, the opportunity to ‘meet’ some beautiful fellow Catholics who are passionate for the Church and her flourishing was also a rich experience.
Having the first assembly held in an online format was not ideal but I was surprised at how well managed and facilitated the whole process was. I’m not sure if I’ll recognise many if we have the opportunity to meet in person but their stories, experiences and sharing have definitely impacted me.
As my family are currently travelling Australia I was lucky enough to participate in the assembly from Townsville, along with the small group of members from that diocese.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to sit with real people around the table and to hear about their stories and experiences from a different diocese, different schools and different parishes.
Much great work was achieved in the week and not without frustrations, anger and differences of opinion.
We pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us in the next nine months leading up to the second assembly, so that together we can build a Church alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit ready to set many hearts aflame with the love of Christ.
Being part of the Plenary Council has been a truly humbling and wonderful experience.
Like many, I found the process of discernment to be one of the major challenges. Discerning (as I have come to realise) takes time. To truly listen to what the Holy Spirit was saying, I needed to be patient and be open to hearing the voice of God.
Knowing that we carried the hopes of the wider community and a large responsibility into the Plenary Council, it challenged me and made me feel uncomfortable; I wanted to ‘get in there’, find realistic and achievable outcomes and discuss our group’s allocated topics, and I found it difficult to trust the process of discernment.
However, as the days went on, the anxieties, uncertainties and discomfort of previous days slowly evaporated, and I was able to participate with more clarity.
Although there were many different areas of discussion, many advocated for a Church that was more welcoming, where governance allows for more involvement of women and doesn’t suppress the work of the Holy Spirit, a focus on regular formation sessions for Religious and lay members, and a strong need to heal the pain and suffering that we have previously caused.
We also saw a strong recognition that young people are the future of the Catholic Church, and we must now address the barriers that continue to see young people and young families turn away from the Church.
I leave ‘part one’ of the Plenary Council hopeful, because we’ve finally initiated the conversations that are long overdue in our Church. I see a common desire to recast and reform many areas of our Catholic Church in Australia.
I look forward to hearing from the wider community so we can continue to represent the Archdiocese of Adelaide and bring forth the voice of the Holy Spirit into ‘part two’ of the Plenary Council.
The journey to the first session of the Plenary Council has been a long one, so it was wonderful to have been able to participate in the first session in October, albeit via technology.
It was with a sense of privilege that I settled down on my computer to watch the opening Mass on Sunday October 3.
The following seven days were deeply engaging and challenging at times. We met in large and small groups via technology, in ways that were always centred on prayerful discernment and respectful listening and dialogue.
Each of the 278 Plenary members were allocated to groups of up to 30 to tackle one or two of the questions from the agenda. There were divergent views and perspectives and bringing our thinking together in the form of proposals at the end of the week was a work of the Holy Spirit.
There was some concern that the Plenary Agenda may not adequately reflect all of the views expressed in the ‘listening and dialogue’ phase leading up to the first assembly.
More than 222,000 people participated in this phase and there were 17,457 submissions. This data indicated some deep hopes, questions and yearnings and these were powerfully evident in the presentations and discussions during the assembly.
I was heartened to encounter people listening to these with an openness to possibility, rather than a fixed mindset around maintaining the status quo.
My sense of gratitude for being a part of the first Plenary Council assembly was maintained throughout the week, even though it was demanding and sometimes frustrating. The processes of prayer and discernment opened up the discussions to generous listening.
I look forward to the next phase as we journey to the second assembly in July 2022, in the hope that we can maintain fidelity with the expectations of renewal in our Church that many are seeking.