Catholic Outlook

Faith in Our Future


The consultation process begins

Project Officer Daniel Ang with St Michael’s Parish Priest, Fr Mick O’Callaghan. Photo: Monique O’Callaghan
Project Officer Daniel Ang with St Michael’s Parish Priest, Fr Mick O’Callaghan. Photo: Monique O’Callaghan

Catholic Outlook, March 2012

The first parish consultation towards our Diocesan Pastoral Plan was held at St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie, on 13 February 2012. It was a lively and animated night with almost 60 participants.

The evening was facilitated by Daniel Ang, Pastoral Planning Officer, with the support of Fr Paul Marshall, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning, Fr John McSweeney, member of the Pastoral Planning Working Party, and the parish team.

The first half of the evening was spent overviewing some of the significant trends and features of the Diocese. The sacramental trends over the past 10 years were named by participants as the most striking statistic as well as the relative youth of the Diocese, with one-quarter of Parramatta Catholics being under the age of 14.

Participants were invited to choose the pastoral priority that was of most interest to them. The priority of “connecting better with the young” proved to be the most popular with “supporting family life” a close second.

Over the next half hour, a range of responses were shared and recorded. A sample was displayed on screen as a plenary review of the evening’s comments and suggestions.

Those who chose the priority of “youth” shared, among other things, the positive experience of the World Youth Day internship programs that were offered by several parishes.

It was suggested that young people could be further engaged with issues of social justice and needed to be better integrated into the mainstay of parish communities.

In the area of “family life”, it was suggested that it was vital that parents be encouraged to remain connected with one another following the baptism of their children.

Suggestions included a quarterly opportunity for those parents of the newly baptised to gather together again, in the context of mutual support in faith and life.

The priority of “building upon the ethnic diversity of the Diocese” received a passionate response, with praise for the educational support provided by the Catholic school system for newly arrived families.

However, there was also an expressed desire for more practical support for parents and adult migrants in finding security within their new home, especially employment.

It was further shared that newly arrived migrants are often not ready to participate fully in parish life and activities until their own families and household had been firmly established in this new context.

Participants commented that it was “great to see parishioners involved in discussion because of their passion for the future of the Diocese” and “an interesting format … great to hear facts and figures we are currently faced with before sharing our ideas. We need to address the balance of people across the different priorities; an imbalance did perhaps show what’s lacking in our particular parish.”

St Michael’s Parish Consultation

A gathering of 115 people took part in the second of our parish consultations held at St Michael’s Parish, Baulkham Hills, on 17 February. Filling the school hall, the evening was brimming with conversation and dynamism.

The responses were again diverse: creating more opportunities for families to interact and exchange faith and life in parishes, the offer of interactive commitments between youth groups and other organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, the potential to connect high school students with faith and enthusiasm with their primary school counterparts as a potential aid to evangelisation.

It was also suggested that a stepwise pathway for youth within the Church to develop leadership skills was also needed.

The participants at St Michael’s Parish were united by a strong commitment to share the best of our Catholic life with present and future generations.

Participants later commented, “What a wonderful evening to spend discussing the future of not only our parish but the Diocese! It was refreshing to be so involved and engaged” and “we are excited to see the outcomes of the consultations. It was energising to see so many of my fellow parishioners gathered together on a Friday night for this project.”

The two evenings provided the Pastoral Planning team with firm directions and concrete initiatives that call for consideration in the development of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

The readiness of those present at the consultation sessions to take up the challenge of outreach to others and best practice and collaboration in ministry was striking and an encouraging sign for future renewal.

We thank the parish teams and parishioners for their eager participation and ongoing support for the work of planning together for a vibrant future of faith.

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Pastoral planning: a priestly perspective

Fr Paul Marshall and Pastoral planning volunteer Monique O'Callaghan collate the responses at Baulkham Hills
Fr Paul Marshall and Pastoral planning volunteer Monique O'Callaghan collate the responses at Baulkham Hills

Fr Paul Marshall, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning

Catholic Outlook, March 2012

Pastoral planning, in the Christian sense, began about 28AD with Jesus gathering 12 disciples around him. The power of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom present among them, the power of His presence and healing ministry was confined, for the most part, to the small region around Galilee though His ministry set the locals talking.

Faith in our Future, the name of our diocesan pastoral planning process, will also, hopefully, encourage parishes, schools, families and agencies to begin talking. What is it like to be at the coalface of such a venture as a member of the clergy?

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP invited me to take on the role of Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning in March 2011. In July we gathered as the clergy of the Diocese of Parramatta at a conference to discuss potential directions for pastoral planning.

At the end of the clergy conference, we as priests and deacons of the Diocese came to a consensus of key commitments that we hoped would underscore our response to planning for the future:

  • We recognise the changed and changing circumstances in our Church and in the world;
  • We are sensitive to the declining numbers of parishioners, in particular youth, who attend weekly Eucharist;
  • We are aware of the impact of increasing secularisation and even opposition to religion in society;
  • We face these challenges at a time when we, as clergy, are ageing and our energy levels are lower;
  • At the same time, we approach our mission with hope and in good spirit;
  • We acknowledge the need for laity to take on positions of co-responsibility. There needs to be more encouragement of laity to take up their proper place in the Church;
  • We celebrate the multicultural diversity of our priests and people with all the faith, richness, and giftedness they bring;
  • Through a Diocesan Pastoral Plan we want to reach out to families, to young people, and to all those not strongly connected to parish or who are estranged from the Church;
  • We wish to promote vocations, identify giftedness within the Diocese through the development of formation; and
  • We name, as important, the principle of collaboration in our future.

As a priest involved in the planning process, I am being challenged by how I need to bring the Gospel and sacraments to a diverse mix of people, viewpoints, trends and demands in our life as a growing and ever-evolving Diocese. In reflecting on this experience two words that came to mind: “dissonance” and “transformation”.

Planning for our future will bring some dissonance but it also promises our transformation. As a priest, I may be inclined to ask whether my security is at stake in the ever-changing landscape of our Church and society.

However, rather than seeing pastoral planning and change as a threat to that security, I see the Holy Spirit moving me forwards. To paraphrase the Epistle to the Ephesians, “Wake up O Sleeper, see what the Risen Christ is showing you now …”

The realities of change confront us all with a challenge that we need to assume with courage: to engage with the present situation with openness, practical wisdom, courage and, above all, a living faith.

From a priestly perspective, whereas once our parishes had two or even three priests apiece, now one priest is often asked to perform the tasks of shepherd and corporate CEO without the necessary resources to do so. Dwindling parish numbers mean that there is now less money to run parishes and even less to pay staff.

The bigger question is, “How do we equip people for Christian living and ministry in the 21st Century?” So, we come back to Faith in our Future, our Diocesan Pastoral Planning process.

We invite both clergy and laity to be open to the challenges and promise of this process. As clergy, we must step up to the plate and make a commitment to work together with hope; laity too must step up to the responsibilities of discipleship in a new time.

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