01 Nov 2021

THE CONVERSATIONS: Small groups tackle tough questions

The Southern Cross November 2021

Plenary - group.jpg

Small groups tackle tough questions

The six themes of the Plenary Council agenda provided fertile ground for the 10 small groups participating in spiritual conversations during the first assembly.

Each group was assigned either one or two of 16 questions covering the themes of conversion, prayer, formation, structures, governance and institutions. However, there was scope to address other issues within this framework.

A member of each small group provided a summary of their discussions to the general assembly most mornings. No motions were put forward but the groups’ ideas and recommendations will be further developed over the months leading up to the second assembly of the Council next July.

The concluding statement of the Plenary Council said the process of members listening to each other had “planted promising seeds and raised important questions for us”.

“We have experienced and expressed the range of emotions that come with facing profound issues together, holding in tension diverse interpretations and expectations,” the statement said.

“Often expressed through the lens of personal experience, the discernment of this assembly has threaded together conversations about what the Church can offer today’s world on the one hand, and how the world can inform the ways and structures of the Church on the other.”

The assembly considered the experience of some groups within the community who don’t always feel at home in Catholic communities. Those groups could include young people, women, single people, parents and families, people with disabilities, people with diverse experience of sexuality and gender, and others “who feel, for a variety of reasons, that there is no place for them”.

“We asked how a missionary Church might connect with those who feel distant from the community of faith,” the statement said.

“Each of these voices has been a powerful reminder that the Church, as a sign of the kingdom of God, has the vocation of being an image of Christ and an icon of grace to the whole human family.

“The plain speaking of First Nations people has brought into even sharper focus the need for reconciliation with Indigenous communities, as well as the need for justice and for the healing of this land itself through an ‘integral ecology’.

“In responding to the agenda questions, we considered ways of living as Church today. Many affirmed what they value about their Catholic faith: spirituality, community, prayer, liturgy and sacramental life, and service through the vocation of all the baptised.

“Members spoke of the ministries of pastoral care and education, health and aged care, and the many social services and advocacy the Church provides in the Australian community. These are great gifts to a world that is seeking meaning and more authentic living.

“Many called our attention to the importance of enhancing the role of women in the Church. We heard the call to conversion and fidelity, as well as to imagination and renewal.

“We were reminded of the needs of rural dioceses and parishes, as well as those of large cities. We celebrated the gifts that the Eastern Churches bring to the Catholic community in Australia.

“We reflected on questions of leadership and governance in light of Pope Francis’ call for us to be more synodal.

“The missionary vision of Pope Francis has both inspired and infused all the deliberations of this first assembly.

“Missionary discipleship has been a key theme, as has the call to go out to the margins.”

The statement described the next nine months as a time of “prayer, reflection, maturation and development”.

In his homily at the closing Mass, Archbishop Mark Coleridge mentioned that the person facilitating his small group’s discussions during the first assembly had been a midwife, who had likened the journey of discernment to bringing a child to birth.

“The process is slow, painful and messy, but in the end it is wonderfully fruitful and joyful as the baby is born,” he said.

“Beyond the maelstrom of this week and all that lies ahead may the Church in Australia come to know the fruitfulness and joy which the Holy Spirit brings from all the pain and mess, because nothing is impossible for God.”

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