THE Catholic Church in Australia has officially launched the Plenary Council 2020 – with support and blessings from Pope Francis – setting off a three-year conversation about the future shape of the Church and its mission.
Launched on the feast of Pentecost, May 20, the plenary council will culminate in gatherings in 2020 and 2021 to consider the Church’s governance, laws and practice.
In a message to Australian Catholics, Pope Francis said he hoped “through patient dialogue and faith-filled discernment, the conciliar journey will confirm the Catholics in Australia in a spirit of fraternal unity and missionary discipleship”.
The Pope said that would enable them to be “a leaven of holiness, justice and reconciliation in today’s rapidly changing society”.
During a Pentecost Sunday homily, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the plenary council was the result of a decision made by the bishops, but “was the work of the Holy Spirit – of that I am convinced”.
“In the Pentecost story … you have a group of disciples huddled together in a locked room … they had seen Jesus executed brutally, and with good reason they thought they might be next on the chopping block,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Jesus risen from the dead walked through the locked room … stands in the midst of the huddle and he says ‘peace be with you’, your fears are a bluff. And He breathes into them the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.
“Suddenly they are out in the streets of Jerusalem, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen – doing the very thing that will eventually cost them their life but which will change the world.
“Pentecost is all about moving beyond our fears and all our locked doors out into the streets of the world with a new surge of Gospel energy.
“That’s what the plenary council is about. That’s what the Holy Spirit is about in Australia at this time.”
Archbishop Coleridge said the plenary council would be a “journey of the Spirit”, not “just a talkfest”, but a time for the Church to make bold decisions.
“It will be a bit helter skelter. There will be mess, but it will be the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The Plenary Council 2020 begins now with a year of listening and dialogue.
The council organisers will take submissions from Church organisations and agencies, parishes and individuals to help form an agenda.
“This is not a process for the ‘inner circle’; this is a bottom-up process that will allow us all to consider how we can draw people closer to the message and teachings of Jesus in contemporary Australian society,” plenary council president Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said.
During 2019 there will be a period of discernment and re-listening.
Contributions will be collated by the plenary council organisers and used to develop some discussion documents for the plenary council gatherings.
Two historic national gatherings will follow – one to be held in Adelaide in October 2020, and a second, decision-making session, in Sydney in the first half of 2021.
Decisions will be submitted to Rome, to ensure they are “in harmony” with Church doctrine.
Plenary council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins said a new website would help all people participate in conversations with friends and family, large groups and small, to consider the plenary council’s central question: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”
“The plenary council will, like no other event in the Church’s history in Australia, allow all Catholics to shape a discussion about the future of our Church,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
“The website now has material to support the important discussions that will take place across the country and I encourage people to head to the website and consider how they will participate in this historic moment.”
Archbishop Costelloe said he hoped the Pope’s message, on top of the strong local interest, “will encourage all Catholics to take part with enthusiasm, and great hope, in the journey of the plenary council upon which we are now embarking”.
Archbishop Coleridge said he had established a plenary taskforce and would call an archdiocesan assembly in the second half of next year in an attempt to listen to “all the voices in the chorus”.
During the plenary process a candle will stand in St Stephen’s Cathedral, as in cathedrals around the country as symbols of light along the plenary council way.
Visit the plenary council website at www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au.