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Many of the key groups helping the Church prepare for the Fifth Plenary Council in Australia and its two assemblies -- the first in Adelaide this October -- have met over the past couple of weeks.

On February 11 and 12, the Plenary Council Steering Team (pictured below) met in Adelaide to continue the work to develop the program for Assembly 1. The team includes committees looking at Masses and liturgies, event management, communications and a range of other matters.

The following week, the Plenary Council Executive Committee, a group made up largely of lay people (pictured below), met to offer advice to the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, which also met that week to consider that advice and the ongoing planning for the Council assemblies.

One of the key moments in the coming weeks will be the announcement in mid-March of the delegates for the Council assemblies. The "local churches" that make up the Catholic Church in Australia have made nominations to represent their community, and some key Catholic ministries have done the same. The announcement is planned for the week of March 16-20 and will coincide with the next edition of PlenaryPost.

Soon after that, the Discernment and Writing Groups' papers -- one for each of the six national themes for discernment -- will be published. Those papers will be central to the preparation of the "instrumentum laboris" or working paper for the Plenary Council, and the agenda for Assembly 1.


Our young people are definitely listening to the Spirit

by Lana Turvey-Collins
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending one of the Student Plenary Assemblies that have been held across Brisbane Archdiocese. There were nearly 200 students from 22 schools present, accompanied by their teachers who had helped to prepare them.

The students had prepared by reading the snapshot dialogue reports and learning about the journey toward the Plenary Council, discerning the future pathways for mission and ministry for the Church in Australia. On the day, the students gathered in small groups and experienced the communal discernment process that invites the group into prayer, reflection on Scripture, spiritual conversation and then, inspired by this, asks the group: How do you feel God is calling us to respond?

It was incredible to hear the passion and faith of the young leaders who participated. It is another wonderful sign that the "young Church" in Australia is engaged and interested in shaping how we best live out the call to follow Jesus in today's society. This video offers some insights into that reality.
Last week, the Executive Committee and the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council gathered and the discussions on the agenda included how to ensure that the habits of discernment, dialogue and listening to one another and to God will continue over the coming months. Ideas and advice were given on how best to ensure that local groups and communities, schools, agencies and parishes can watch the livestream of the plenary sessions, can gather in prayer and conversation and can use social media and other platforms to accompany the body of delegates, observers and advisors gathered in Adelaide. Stay tuned for more detail on this in coming weeks. 

This week, Archbishops Costelloe, Coleridge and Fisher have held meetings with the Holy See about our Plenary Council. They return next week. Please keep them in your prayers. 

As Lent begins, I am hopeful that our collective prayer, fasting and almsgiving will deepen our ability to be present to God's voice and trust that we are being led by what the Spirit is saying. 



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 are the people serving on the Discernment and Writing Groups? 

Lay people, priests and religious were selected, after a thorough application and interview process, to serve on the six Discernment and Writing Groups, which are each focusing on one of the six national themes for discernment. Each group also has two bishops.

The people serving on the groups come from a variety of backgrounds. The chair of each group has provided a brief comment on their involvement with the Plenary Council and their hopes for the once-in-a-lifetime process. Choose a national theme for discernment on this page to read those messages and see a list of the group members.


Why another phase of discernment?
by Fr Noel Connolly SSC, Plenary Council Facilitation Team

Recently I received an email asking why, if we had identified all the themes, we need another phase of discernment. 

There are several reasons for having this second discernment stage. Firstly, it takes us time to know what we really want and, more importantly, what the Holy Spirit wants. Historically, we, the faithful, have not been encouraged to speak up. I therefore believe that the first time we do, we are likely to speak in a shallow, superficial and even angry way. It takes prayer, discernment, reflection, discussion and listening to know our hearts’ deepest desires.

Moreover, it is not just a question of what “we want”. The real question at the heart of our Plenary Council planning process is not “What will we do?” but “What is the Holy Spirit leading us to do?” Unless the Plenary Council processes are Spirit-inspired, they will not be attractive, life-giving or lasting in the end. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, has reminded us that the Church does not grow by proselytising or by argument, but by attractiveness. Ultimately, it is only the beauty of God that attracts.

Click here to read Fr Noel's full article.


People's responses offer road map for faith formation

The director of the Office of Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Archdiocese of Hobart says the Plenary Council report Listen to What the Spirit is Saying underlines the need for additional faith formation opportunities for lay Catholics.

Christine Wood, writing in The Catholic Weekly, said the Church's rich history of social teaching can have specific emphases depending on one's profession or place in life, but that teaching has broad applicability across all areas.

"The laity in all workplaces would do well to be formed in Catholic social teaching and the moral virtues so they can identify and strive for the common good, the modes of authentic participation in society and, above all, to keep in mind the preferential option for the poor," Dr Wood wrote.

"Well-formed lay Catholics can work towards the evangelisation and sanctification of peoples outside the Church. They can inculcate a Christian conscience among people so that society can become more open to the work of the Holy Spirit.

"If we are to build the civilisation of love envisioned in the Gospel, we need well-formed, faith-filled lay Catholics working in all the professions."

Click here to read the full article.

Plenary Council can aid dialogue with wider society

Helping people form a mature Catholic faith that will sustain them in years to come is a key challenge of the upcoming Plenary Council, according to Br Mark O’Connor FMS.

Br Mark, the vicar for communications in Parramatta Diocese, wrote that in an increasingly polarised world, perhaps best exemplified in the world of politics, it can be difficult to invite people to leave their own entrenched positions. 

"People must now be encouraged to deepen the insights of the gift of faith. Faith always needs to well up from within," Br Mark wrote for Catholic Outlook.

"Only then can faith dialogue with the culture around it and exercise prophetic imagination. That’s what is at the heart of the coming Plenary Council and the journey of synodality."

Click here to read more.

Pope's exhortation has guidance for Council

Pope Francis earlier this month released Querida Amazonia, an apostolic exhortation following the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. Some important messages about synodality and dialogue featured in the document.

"Starting from our roots, let us sit around the common table, a place of conversation and of shared hopes," Pope Francis wrote, referencing both the Amazon and the wider community.

"In this way our differences, which could seem like a banner or a wall, can become a bridge. Identity and dialogue are not enemies. Our own cultural identity is strengthened and enriched as a result of dialogue with those unlike ourselves. Nor is our authentic identity preserved by an impoverished isolation."

Click here to access the full exhortation.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that Querida Amazonia, particularly through its examination of ecological and indigenous matters, had a number of valuable lessons for the Church in Australia.

Click here to read a statement from the Bishops Conference.

ACU hosting short courses on Council themes

Australian Catholic University will run a short course on the themes for the Plenary Council 2020 at its Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney campuses next month.

The course, “Envisioning the Church of the future: Themes of the Plenary Council”, will run on each Wednesday in March.

National coordinator of short courses in theology at ACU, Joel Hodge, said the topic had been chosen to help the Church and its members reflect on the theological meaning of the Plenary Council themes and engage in dialogue about their significance for the life and practices of the Church today.

“The themes highlight key areas of what it means for us to be the Church in Australia. The themes came out of the discernment and discussions of thousands of Church members across Australia and will set the vision and agenda of the Church for the foreseeable future,” Dr Hodge said.

Click here to read more about the courses by clicking on the relevant campus.

Liturgy conference embraces Plenary Council focus

Like many other Catholic conferences in the recent past and in the short- and medium-term future, the National Biennial Liturgy Conference is reflecting on a theme related to the Plenary Council.

The conference, being held in Parramatta next month, will look at "Forming a Prayerful and Eucharistic Church", similar to the Council theme "How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is prayerful and eucharistic?"

American priest Fr Paul Turner, former president of the North American Academy of Liturgy and a member of the Catholic Academy of Liturgy, will take up some of the Plenary Council themes in his keynote addresses.

Click here to read more about the conference, which has now sold out.

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PlenaryPost Edition 21

Eagle-eyed readers of PlenaryPost noticed the past two editions were number 20 and 22. The number 21 was skipped due to a technical error. We apologise for any confusion.

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