After almost four-and-a-half years, thousands of meetings, and untold prayers, we find ourselves just two days away from the opening Mass of the second general assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia.
The journey has traversed much ground, has navigated a pandemic that lingers, suffered a postponement and the transfer of the first assembly online, but we’ve almost made it — thanks to the People of God across Australia.
As the second assembly approaches, much of this PlenaryPost focuses on the assembly and the interplay between the 277 members who will participate in the assembly and the many more who will follow online and in prayer. And if you live in the greater Sydney area, you are welcome to join us for the closing Mass of the Plenary Council at 10.30am on Saturday, July 9 at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Read on for several updates on the Plenary Council. Now would be a good time to save the Plenary Council website in your favourites, because it will provide a wealth of information over the next eight days.
by Marion Gambin rsj
Before you know it, Assembly 2 will have begun! Thank you for all your prayers, contributions and good spirit, your local engagement with the listening and dialogue and the listening and discernment process along the journey of our Plenary Council. It is a unique and special moment in our lifetime as we have all travelled together discerning what God is asking of us in Australia at this time.
Over the next few days, Members and Personnel will be traveling to Sydney and gathering at Mary Mackillop Place in North Sydney for the Opening Mass for the second Assembly. There are several ways you can stay connected and join in. Please go to the website at www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au and you will see how. You might even like to send a message of prayer and support to all the Members!
Some might say we have now come to the end of a four-year journey, extended 12 months because of COVID-19! However, I like to think that as we move into the Implementation Phase of this Plenary Council process, we shall witness the small seed planted four years ago as it flourishes and bears the fruit of a renewed spirit of hope amongst the People of God across Australia. A beginning!
The process of discernment has been central to the Plenary Council Journey – listening to what the Spirit is saying in me and then listening to what the Spirit is saying to the group. Hopefully this process of discernment has been transformative for you, and transformed the way you in your communities, parishes, dioceses take time to listen to what the Spirit is saying in the group to enable you to move to decision and action, for the common good of our Church, our country, our world.
This won’t be the last Plenary Post! We will be back again after the second assembly to keep you informed of all that takes place after the closure of the Plenary Council on 9 July with the celebration of the Eucharist at 10.30am AEST, in St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney.
I pray these words from our Plenary Council prayer as we work together to be renewed and full of hope for our future as a Catholic Church community:
Plenary Council Prayer
Come, Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit of the great South Land.
O God, bless and unite all your people in Australia and guide us on the pilgrim way of the Plenary Council.
Give us the grace to see your face in one another and to recognise Jesus, our companion on the road.
Give us the courage to tell our stories and to speak boldly of your truth.
Give us ears to listen humbly to each other and a discerning heart to hear what you are saying.
Lead your Church into a hope-filled future, that we may live the joy of the Gospel.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, bread for the journey from age to age. Amen.
Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.
St Mary MacKillop, pray for us
Many blessings of the Spirit of Peace
Marion — for the Facilitation Team
We will address a new question in each e-newsletter. To catch up on previous editions, you can check out the Plenary Council FAQ page. If you have a question, email it to us and we will include it in future editions of PlenaryPost.
The question for this edition is…
Who will attend the Plenary Council assemblies?
There will be three main groups of people attending the Council’s assemblies: Members; Advisers; and Observers.
Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia are those who have been called to participate in the assemblies. Some of the members are people who “must” be called to a plenary council, as outlined in Church law; others are people who “may” be called, who were chosen through a range of processes across the country. The members have, at times, been referred to as “delegates” to the Council. The language of “member” better reflects the canonical status of those called to a Council, as well as the sense that all members are there to represent the People of God in Australia, not just their local Church community. Members are the only people who can vote at the Council assemblies. It is expected there will be 277 members participating in the second assembly.
Advisers to the Council are people with particular expertise across a range of matters, such as theology, Scripture, governance, formation, ecclesiology (study of the Church), who can be called upon by members, individually or collectively, to provide advice on particular matters to assist with their discernment and decision-making. Advisers are sometimes called “experts” or “periti”, a Latin term used to describe the experts at the Second Vatican Council and other major Church events.
Observers are people who, as the name suggests, observe the proceedings of the Council assemblies because of their particular relationship with the Catholic Church in Australia. Following the tradition of other Church gatherings, the observers are likely to include Catholic leaders from other parts of the world, especially New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia; leaders of other Christian denominations; and leaders of other faith traditions. The observers might attend some or all of the assemblies.
The Members, Advisers and Observers will be supported by staff and volunteers helping with the facilitation of discernment, technology requirements, events management and liturgical needs. Media and communications staff will help document the national and local aspects of the Council assemblies.
Recognising the Holy Spirit (and the evil spirit)
The Holy Spirit will never tell you that on your journey everything is going just fine. He will never tell you this, because it isn’t true. No, he corrects you; he makes you weep for your sins; he pushes you to change, to fight against your lies and deceptions, even when that calls for hard work, interior struggle and sacrifice. The evil spirit, on the contrary, pushes you to do always what you want, what you find pleasing. He makes you think that you have the right to use your freedom any way you want. Then, once you are left feeling empty inside – and how many of us have known that terrible feeling of emptiness! – then he blames you and casts you down. The evil spirit blames you, he becomes the accuser. He casts you down and destroys you. The Holy Spirit, correcting you along the way, never leaves you lying on the ground: He takes you by the hand, comforts you and constantly encourages you.
The Holy Spirit is practical, he is not an idealist. He wants us to concentrate on the here and now, because the time and place in which we find ourselves are themselves grace-filled. These are the concrete times and places of grace, here and now. That is where the Holy Spirit is leading us. The spirit of evil, however, would pull us away from the here and now, and put us somewhere else. Often he anchors us to the past: to our regrets, our nostalgia, our disappointments. Or else he points us to the future, fueling our fears, illusions and false hopes. But not the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us to love, concretely, here and now, not an ideal world or an ideal Church, an ideal religious congregation, but the real ones, as they are, seen in broad light of day, with transparency and simplicity. How very different from the evil one, who foments gossip and idle chatter. Idle chatter is a nasty habit; it destroys a person’s identity.
The Holy Spirit wants us to be together; he makes us Church and today – here is the third and final aspect – he teaches the Church how to walk. The disciples were cowering in the Upper Room; the Spirit then came down and made them go forth. Without the Spirit, they were alone, by themselves, huddled together. With the Spirit, they were open to all. In every age, the Spirit overturns our preconceived notions and opens us to his newness. God, the Spirit, is always new! He constantly teaches the Church the vital importance of going forth, impelled to proclaim the Gospel. The importance of our being, not a secure sheepfold, but an open pasture where all can graze on God’s beauty. He teaches us to be an open house without walls of division. The worldly spirit drives us to concentrate on our own problems and interests, on our need to appear relevant, on our strenuous defense of the nation or group to which we belong. That is not the way of the Holy Spirit. He invites to forget ourselves and to open our hearts to all. In that way, he makes the Church grow young. We need to remember this: the Spirit rejuvenates the Church. Not us and our efforts to dress her up a bit. For the Church cannot be “programmed” and every effort at “modernisation” is not enough.
The Spirit liberates us from obsession with emergencies. He beckons us to walk his paths, ever ancient and ever new, the paths of witness, poverty and mission, and in this way, he sets us free from ourselves and sends us forth into the world.
— An excerpt from the homily Pope Francis preached on Pentecost Sunday. Click here to read the full homily.
The four-year journey of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia is about to reach its high point, with Members gathering in Sydney this weekend for the start of the Council’s second and final assembly.
“For the 277 Members, most of whom have been walking this journey for almost two-and-a-half years, this has something of the feel of a grand final,” Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said.
“We have been preparing spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and in all sorts of other ways for some time, and we have reached this pivotal moment.”
The critical task the Members will undertake during the second assembly is voting on more than 30 motions that have emerged over the past four years.
The motions were outlined in the Framework for Motions document published on June 1, and the Council’s Drafting Committee have worked on the recommendations of Members to further refine the motions.
The 30 motions that will be considered during the second assembly of the Plenary Council, rising from four years of national conversation, were published on June 1.
Bishop Shane Mackinlay, the vice president of the Plenary Council, said the road to the Framework for Motions goes back to 2018 – starting with the Listening and Dialogue phase of the Council, which drew more than 17,000 submissions on behalf of 222,000 people.
“Carried forward through prayer, reflection and discernment, and drawing on Scripture, Church tradition, papal teaching and our current context, these 30 motions have emerged,” he said.
“In recent months, the Council’s drafting committee has worked collaboratively to prepare this Framework for Motions, drawing on more than 30 contributors, including Council Members, advisers and theologians.
“A key part of this process has also been the input received from nearly 130 Council Members, who provided feedback on the initial working document that was distributed to them for reflection.”
On June 30, two additional documents were published that outline the ongoing discernment undertaken by Members, assisted by the Council’s Drafting Committee, during the month of June.
This version of the document shows all amendments that were made to the original Framework for Motions document by the Drafting Committee .
This version of the document has incorporated changes that have been made to the document that did not require motions, and shows marked-up text where amendments to motions will be proposed during the assembly. That applies to six sections of the document, with text in red to denote which possible changes will be considered.
People from across the country are sharing their hopes and their prayers with the 277 Members of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia who will gather in Sydney for the second and final assembly next week.
When the Council Members arrive for the assembly, cards handwritten by Catholics will be included in their welcome packs.
“This has been a journey surrounded by the voices and prayers of the entire Catholic community, and these cards are a way of bringing that voice into the second assembly,” said Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB.
Sr Marion Gambin RSJ, the Plenary Council’s Acting Facilitator, said there has been a concerted effort to capture and live out the national significance of this event.
“The Local Coordinators Network, which has been a powerhouse during this four-year journey, has managed this campaign to have people sign and send in the cards,” she said.
Other messages will also be shared with Members during the week. A portal has been set up on the home page of the Plenary Council website to allow people to send a message to the assembly, with those messages to be posted to a wall-sized version of the Council logo.
Leaders of the Catholic Church in the Asia-Pacific region and the head of the National Council of Churches in Australia are among those who will serve as observers at the second assembly of the Plenary Council.
There is a long tradition of having observers attend major Church events, and there will be five such observers at the Plenary Council.
Cardinal John Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington, will be in Sydney for the event from July 3-9 representing the Church in New Zealand.
Cardinal Dew said he considered it “a great honour” to be invited to be an observer for the Council, and he is looking forward to being in person for the second assembly, after joining online last October.
Reverend John Gilmore, the president of the National Council of Churches in Australia, the leading ecumenical body in the country, will also be an observer.
He said being present for the assembly “is a way of affirming the ongoing Plenary journey of the Catholic Church as it explores it priorities for the next stage of its life”.
Other observers who will attend the second assembly of the Plenary Council include Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar; Apostolic Nuncio to Australia Archbishop Charles Balvo; and Catholic Church Insurance’s Ross Castle.
The second assembly of the Plenary Council commences with the opening Mass of the second assembly, celebrated at 5pm on Sunday, July 3.
From Monday, July 4 to Friday, July 8, the members will hold several sessions each day to consider the work of the Plenary Council, including the motions and taking votes.
Masses will be celebrated each evening at 6pm from Monday to Thursday, with Mass on Friday celebrated at 7.45am.
The closing Mass of the Plenary Council will be celebrated at 10.30am on Saturday, July 9 at St Mary’s Cathedral. That Mass is open to the public.
All Council Masses and sessions on each day of the week will be livestreamed, as outlined in the schedule above.
You can access the full program for the second assembly by clicking here.
A great way to reconnect with or enter more deeply into the Plenary Council journey is to read some of the key documents from the past four years. They capture how far the People of God in Australia have travelled in that time. Documents you might wish to read again — or read for the first time — include:
You can find other key documents, including the six Thematic Discernment Papers, on the Plenary Council website.