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Winds of change – more than 220,000 participated in first phase of Plenary Council 2020

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Eric Robinson: “This is a critical moment in the history of the Church both in Australia and globally.”

THE Plenary Council 2020 is yielding a “counter cultural” shift in the way Catholics in Australia communicate, with huge numbers among the country’s five million faithful sharing their stories of calling and commitment.

“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,” Brisbane archdiocese’s Plenary Council 2020 co-ordinator Eric Robinson told the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference media blog.

“This is counter-cultural if we take into context the history of the Church in Australia (and wider world).”

More than 220,000 people contributed to the Listening and Dialogue phase of the plenary council that closed in March – sharing their stories and considering the question “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”

Plans for a plenary council, or synod, which means “on the road together”, were approved by Pope Francis. 

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has predicted the Plenary Council 2020, the first national gathering of its kind in Australia since 1937, would spark cultural and structural changes in the Church.

“I think we have to accept the fact that Christendom is over – by which I mean mass, civic Christianity. It’s over,” Archbishop Coleridge told The Catholic Leader in August 2016, when he unveiled plans for the plenary council.

“Now, how do we deal with that fact?

“This is no time for the Church to be putting up signs that say ‘business as usual’.

“If we needed any proof, then the Royal Commission (into child sexual abuse) has shown that.

“We need to face the facts, and in the light of the facts, which aren’t always friendly, we have to make big decisions about the future.”

As the Listening and Dialogue phase moved to the next phase, Listening and Discernment, Mr Robinson said he observed the beginnings of a shift in the way people were “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.

“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 is working with a local team to organise the Brisbane Assembly on October 4-5, part of the Listening and Discernment phase.

This archdiocesan event will be held at the Edmund Rice Performing Arts Complex in South Brisbane, and will be open to the public, with registration opening in July. 

A live stream of this event, along with resources produced and provided, will be made available for those who are unavailable to attend.

As part of plenary council preparations, Australian bishops and leaders of religious congregations gathered in Melbourne from May 6-10 for a meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

For more information about the Plenary Council 2020 process, visit the Plenary Council website.

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