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Brisbane students tell Plenary Council planners what they want for the Church

Young faithful: Representatives from Brisbane Catholic high schools attending a student plenary assembly at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly, recently. Photo: Mark Bowling

A BRISBANE student plenary assembly – the first held in Australia – has identified greater inclusion and equality for women, and a need for priests to be more tech-savvy as key issues for the Church today.

“We are facing a crisis and we want to face it together, because the Catholic Church is important for Australia as a whole,” Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said at the recent assembly, encouraging participating students to enter into a communal discernment about the direction of the Church in Australia. “We have to try and meet the challenge together.”

Seven Brisbane Catholic schools took part in the pilot event held at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly, with the format to be used to shape larger student plenary assemblies early next year, as part of the journey towards the first session of National Plenary Council in October 2020.

The guiding scripture for the pilot plenary assembly was: 1 Timothy 4:12 – “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”.

“There are some things we are going to have to leave behind. And there are some new things …  things we have never imagined,” Archbishop Coleridge said. 

“In your speaking and sharing today, speak from your heart – speak the truth as you see it – because God might have put it there. 

“And if God has put it there it’s not just for you, it’s for everybody.

“And that’s why it’s important that you share what’s in your heart.”

Put to the test, students split into groups for an initial session to start considering two questions – “What does ‘inclusive’ look like, sound like and feel like to you?”, and “What does ‘participatory’ look like, sound like and feel like to you?”

They returned a number of key messages jotted on sticky notes. “Make mental health less of a taboo”, “Be respectful of choices that people make (ie abortions)”, and “Openness or support for single parents and teenage mothers”, and “Everyone’s opinion matters” were among the replies.

And “Actively accepting: including people despite their background”, and “Encouraging people to find love within and for themselves, not just love for God and religion” were others.

Deep discussion: Students from Brisbane Catholic high schools engage in small-group discussions on some of the big questions facing the Church today at a plenary council event at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly.

During a second discernment session, the issues facing the Church were further discussed and students identified greater inclusion and equality for women and a need for priests to improve their ICT skills and “use technology to increase young people’s engagement” during the homily. 

Greater equality would require different power structures and support from men in the Church.

It was suggested ICT skills form a greater part of seminary training, while priests should refresh their skills every three years.

Among the student responses were: calls for greater recognition and inclusion for indigenous Australians; a formal apology and blessings for members of the LGBTI community; and allowing married men to be priests.

Indigenous involvement would include language and art in churches, inviting elders to have a greater role in Church events and making acknowledgement of country a part of the Church.

Following the Brisbane pilot, plenary organisers intend following up with two Queensland sessions with Year 11 students early next year – one to be held in Gympie on February 13 to capture the voice of the young people from the Wide Bay area, and a second, larger event at Brisbane’s Lourdes Hill College on February 17.

All group responses received from the student assemblies will be submitted to the national writing groups that are developing draft papers for the Plenary Council in October 2020.

Schools that participated in the event were Brigidine College, Indooroopilly; Mary MacKillop College, Nundah; Padua College, Kedron; St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace; St James College, Spring Hill; St Thomas More College, Sunnybank; and St Michael’s College, Merrimac.

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