AT the end of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI entrusted the newly “rejuvenated” Church to one specific group of Catholics.
It was for young people, the Pope said, that the Church was being re-examined “to respond better to the design of her Founder”.
So, after four rigorous years, the Church was entrusting young people to “build a better world than your elders had”.
“For it is you who are to receive the torch from the hands of your elders and to live in the world at the period of the most gigantic transformations ever realised in its history,” the Pope said.
“It is you who, receiving the best of the example of the teaching of your parents and your teachers, are to form the society of tomorrow.
“You will either save yourselves or you will perish with it.”
So how has the Church fared since that historic address fifty-five years ago?
According to the National Church Life survey, executed in Australia for participating Christian denominations, in 2016 only 30 per cent of Catholic parishioners were under the age of 50.
There were increasingly low rates of participation, where in 2016 the same survey of the Archdiocese of Brisbane found 8.1 per cent of people who identified as Catholics attended Mass.
The young people of the Church today, who are heirs to the generation entrusted with the Church after the Second Vatican Council, are more than not disengaged from their faith.
Though there are many views on what might address these challenges in the Church, Brisbane Deacon Peter Pellicaan believes the real saving grace for the Church will be fidelity to the original vision “of Her founder” – Jesus Christ.
“While structural and canonical changes can have their place, as is evident throughout our history, it’s the personal encounter with Jesus that really brings renewal,” Deacon Pellicaan said.
“When that encounter takes place in the life of an individual, the sacraments that at times may have only been experienced as a ritual, become the expression of a profound relationship.”
This encounter naturally leads to discipleship, which Deacon Peter says naturally inspires Catholics to grow deeper in faith.
But the leader of the Archdiocese of Brisbane’s evangelisation arm believes the Church has forgotten how to make disciples.
“We’re often baptising but we’re not often making disciples, we’re sacramentalising but not evangelising,” he said.
“That’s not what we’re called to do, we’re called to make disciples.
“It’s non-negotiable – Jesus said ‘Go make disciples of all nations’.”
This failure to make disciples is one of the primary reasons there are so many non-practicing Catholics worldwide.
“There’s lots of baptised, initiated Catholics who don’t know why the Church wants them to come to Mass; who don’t know why the Church wants them to come to confession; who don’t know why the Church wants them to follow the Church’s teachings; who don’t know why the Church has something to say about moral issues that are so tetchy,” Deacon Pellicaan said.
Now he, in collaboration with the team at Evangelisation Brisbane, have developed a plan to try and address these challenges, at least in Brisbane.
In September, Evangelisation Brisbane will launch a five-year strategic plan that outlines what the agency will do to support parishes and communities in fostering an encounter with Jesus Christ, to quote Pope Francis.
The strategic plan is the Archdiocese’s attempt to grow intentional communities and ministries that focus on spiritual growth; which is in many ways, the vision of the Second Vatican Council.
“Though it is a plan for Evangelisation Brisbane, it is a plan for all of us, because all the baptised are called to the mission of Christ to make disciples of all nations,” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said in his foreword for the plan.
“All of us, the priestly people of God, are called to evangelise.”
The plan is focused on specific goals, and seeks to measure spiritual growth in the Agency’s five key areas – children and families, youth and young adults, adult formation, inclusion, and parish leadership.
Among some of the goals for the five years is the aim to turn parishes into “missionary centres of evangelisation”.
There will also be renewed efforts to engage primary and secondary school children both in parishes and in their schools, there will be training for leaders of various ministries, and a new adult formation program that will aim to form disciples rather than merely inform Catholics.
Last month Evangelisation Brisbane received what seemed to be a green light from the Vatican – the release of a new set of guidelines for parishes that called for changes to current parish models.
Issued by the Congregation for Clergy on July 20, the guideline said parishes needed to undergo pastoral conversion so as to become more missionary-focused.
It claimed that parish models today “no longer adequately correspond to the many expectations of the faithful”.
Deacon Pellicaan said the guidelines, in the first 41 sections, encouraged parishes to rethink their mission of encounter with Christ, which is at the very heart of Evangelisation Brisbane’s five-year plan.
“The new document engages the language of ‘encounter with Jesus’ on a number of occasions as well as addressing the need for community, for people to feel that they belong in Church,” he said.
“We’ve been talking the language of encounter since Evangelii Gaudium. To quote the third paragraph: “I invite everyone everywhere to a personal encounter with Jesus, or at least to be open for him to encounter you.”
Deacon Pellicaan’s history of growing a faithful community as a former protestant pastor will be an advantage for Evangelisation Brisbane.
“I’ve seen the extraordinary power of truly engaged, intergenerational and authentic Christian community,” he said.
“If we can work with parishes across the Archdiocese to encourage and inspire strong, authentic loving communities of faith, we can have missionary disciples everywhere.”
Such a parish is not just merely sacramental service, or as the deacon put it, “not just a Host dispenser”.
“It’s rather a living community that flows to and from the Eucharist which is it’s centre,” he said.
“It’s a community that is loving, joyful, truthful and missional.”
Effectively, it’s a community that looks like, sounds like and acts like Jesus, and one that is engaging and attractive to almost anyone.
Deacon Pellicaan, a father of five children, is also committed to ensuring parents that the Church has something to offer their children that encourages a life-long love of the faith.
“The big question mark for Catholic families is what does the Catholic Church offer our children?” he said.
“We’ve had a royal commission into abuse against children, we have a great list of recommendations that we’re following, but we’re still doing very little intentional ministry for children, and that’s just not good enough.
“At the moment, the lack of resources and support developed and offered to families would suggest that we are not interested in children as a Church.
“We have the most beautiful and robust theology of marriage and family in our tradition, but are lagging far behind in terms of the engagement of families and specifically children.”
As the days come closer to launching the plan, Deacon Pellicaan understands that change won’t occur overnight, especially in an archdiocese that serves nearly 100 parishes.
“In such a large Archdiocese, we have to be honest about the fact that we can’t change everything overnight right, but with a clearly articulated vision and the collaboration of many across the Archdiocese who also hunger for positive change, there is much that can be achieved over five years,” he said.
“Indeed we can’t do this on our own, but will work to support, inspire and empower any parishes and communities that wish to join with us to see the Catholic Church become the life transforming family of faith, hope and love that it is called to be.”