Faith in Our Future Blog - August 2012
On Thursday (30th August, 2012), parishioners of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kellyville, gathered for our most recent consultation. Thank you to the parish team for their hospitality and warm welcome!
Throughout the night both parishioners and the Franciscan friars of the parish spoke strongly about the issues of families in crisis. There was a keen awareness of the challenges facing today’s families and many unanswered questions about where to send families in emergencies and for after-hours care. There was a felt need to develop much more systematic and comprehensive outreach to families who had children with disabilities, and appropriate care was sought for these members of our community, particularly from the time of birth until school age. There was also an expressed desire for the more vigorous promotion of family prayer in general.
In the area of youth, it was affirmed that young people need continuous and active encouragement and motivation and, too often, there is a failure to call forth the potential of our young people. It was suggested that more needed to be done to facilitate the exchange of ideas between youth and their potential mentors (e.g. via social media) and a need to present the Gospel in a language that can be readily understood by today’s youth. It was imperative that we, as a Church, find ways to articulate beliefs in a contemporary context that was both faithful to tradition and world-engaging. Inviting dynamic and engaging outside speakers to share the Gospel was one approach for parishes to help motivate young people in their discipleship. Two other key areas to engage youth were identified: music ministry and homilies, with the latter being an opportunity to both affirm and challenge young people with the fullness of the Gospel message.
In the area of ethnic diversity, it was felt that we need to do more in building friendships through initiatives for the under 12 age-group, an effort that would foster understanding and communion across differing families and bring ethnic groups closer together with not only each other but with the whole parish community. The idea of implementing family groups was suggested as a way to cross cultural divides. Two significant holy days which were named as providing especial opportunity were Pentecost Sunday and Good Friday. There was the idea of ethnic based food fairs and the suggestion that a different ethnic group in the parish could be invited to co-ordinate a parish Mass once a month or so where feasible.
The journey of pilgrimage was shared as a vehicle for promoting better partnerships between clergy and laity and it was further felt that laity need to articulate their needs and desires to their clergy rather than remaining silent about the issues that concern them. There was a felt need to exercise shared initiative between clergy and the laity in the preparation of events, these gatherings strengthening the bonds and providing combined witness to our Church as a communion.
Positively, it was felt that the Church was endowed with sound organisational structures which are foundational for effective evangelisation. However, poor liturgies and poor pastoral practice were identified as a turn off to people who might otherwise engage with the life of the Church. As 25% of the Catholics of our Diocese are under the age of 14, the need to engage with the social media was imperative and Catholic theology was one area raised for promotion through Facebook and similar technologies. However, it was also recognised that social media could not take the place of vital human relationships which were essential to engaging new families with the faith at the start of school, for instance, and which underlined the ongoing importance of home visitation which brings community into the home. Other suggestions for the re-evangelisation of our people included short formation sessions about our faith, street-mission teams and social events that led people to consider a return to Mass.
It was a lively night of discussion and genuine engagement in the pastoral initiatives and challenges which stand before us. There was obvious synergy between the Franciscan brothers who participated and the people working in the parish towards a common good. Thank you to each and every one of the Kellyville participants for their input toward the Pastoral Plan. It has certainly given us key areas of focus which we will seek to engage in the coming months.
For all our subscribers and readers, please remember to pick up your copy of the September Catholic Outlook which contains our interim report on the feedback to date! Special copies of this report will also be available as a standalone document in the weeks to come so please look out for these and take one home for your family and friends. It includes a word from Bishop Anthony and our own response to the opportunities and challenges raised by you and your communities. As we soon turn to consider recommendations, we ask for your prayers and your continued support as we seek to honour your feedback as best we can, together with our clergy, diocesan agencies, ethnic communities and schools.
Yours in Christ,
Fr Paul Marshall
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On Sunday (26th August 2012) a remarkable 290 people took part in the consultation sessions held at Holy Family Parish, Mt Druitt, and Sacred Heart Parish, Mt Druitt South, offering written responses toward the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
Our thanks goes to both parish priests, Fr Ed Dooley SJ and Fr Carl Ashton, and parish teams for encouraging participation in the process over a number of weeks and ensuring the wisdom and imagination of their communities were able to enter into a developing communal vision for our life as Church in the coming years.
The priority of family life was the focus of the responses gathered to date, with almost half of the responses looking at ways in which children and families as a whole might be supported in their worship of God, their understanding of the faith and their living of that faith in everyday life. The care for one another in these communities was affirmed as a strength, while challenges including encouraging the reading of Scripture, supporting family members overseas as an expression of mission, and the need of more programs to engage youth and younger children in the faith. Family retreats were also raised as a need among others.
In the area of youth, joyous liturgies were underscored as vital to a sense of belonging and as encouraging growth in faith among the young. Bible study was also raised as a need in our parishes, especially for youth who grow in their faith over time and need support and resources to do so. Contemporary praise and worship music was identified as attractive to youth while across-parish gatherings of young people was a further opportunity named.
In the priority of laity and clergy, the needs of older parishioners were raised as an important area of pastoral care that needed strengthening. Ensuring the availability of transport for older parishioners to take part in parish liturgies was emphasised. Formation for the laity was identified as critical to the future life of the Church and the Catechism was noted as a foundational document in this effort. How might we encourage the reading of this text as a starting point for a deeper knowledge of the faith, in both a local setting and throughout the diocese? Increased promotion of the priestly and religious vocations was also suggested with the emphasis on invitation, good clear messages and a variety of means of communication including online social media networks.
The need of tolerance and mutual understanding of different cultures was underlined by participants who considered ethnic diversity. This diversity was noticeable in the liturgies at Holy Family Parish on the weekend of consultation itself, with various forms of traditional dress on display. It served as a powerful reminder of the variety of cultures that characterise the Parramatta Diocese.
Finally, there were a good number of responses in the area of the new evangelisation or outreach with the importance of our own witness again underscored as the key to persuasive and compelling invitations to faith. Offering welcome to non-church goers was a challenge while making the sacrament of reconciliation as accessible as possible was named as an opportunity. The offering of booklets to explain the Mass and encourage participation, particularly for newcomers, was a further practical suggestion among others.
It was a genuine joy to be with these communities on the weekend and listen to the communities of faith as they identified the vision and actions they held as vital for the future life of our Church. We hope that as the consultation process nears its conclusion the many people who have participated so far, and given their time and commitment to a shared future, have experienced the sessions as a time to take stock, to speak with one another and with ourselves as a diocesan team in the pursuit of new ways to live our Gospel mission in the years ahead. Remember that if you have further ideas and suggestions you would like to contribute, it is never too late. You can email us through this website and encourage family and friends to take part as well.
Yours in Christ,
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On Wednesday (22nd August 2012) over sixty people took part in the consultation held at the parish of St Nicholas of Myra at Penrith, which included parishioners from St Joseph’s Parish, Kingswood, and Corpus Christi Parish, Cranebrook. There was keen recognition of the challenges for the social dimensions of faith, including online communities and competing sporting groups and social groups, however there was also a commitment to share the Gospel and best of our tradition at every opportunity.
In terms of the priority of family life, one response to the above challenges was for social activities in parishes to purposefully engage with the issues of welcome, belonging, life-stage support groups and, more specifically, to reinitiate mothers’ groups, playgroups and to look anew at current opportunities including the Passionist Family groups among others.
In terms of connecting with the young, one of the young people at the consultation stated emphatically that loud or rock music at Mass was not necessarily attractive to youth but rather they were drawn to meaningful music and lyrics in the context of good and participative liturgy. For the young, it was felt that there was a struggle to rise above the peer pressure coming from social media and various other friendship and sporting groups which often took precedence over parish initiatives. It was felt that we need to research the experience of Anglicans and Pentecostal communities to see how they are ministering with their young people. There was a desire to engage young people and their families in early primary school with extra-curricular faith options by way of social activities, including games. The need to have catechists in State high schools, especially in years 7 and 8, was seen as critical in the formation of young people in their faith over the longer term.
In regard to ethnic diversity, it was felt that we need to engage these communities in a deeper way outside of Mass times, especially by learning about the way their cultural group engages the faith and to learn and understand their expressions of faith. It was suggested that we need to engage ethnic people in their families: befriending them and coming to appreciate their worldview. The idea of the multicultural night with Mass, prayer and food was proposed.
In regard to the priority of laity and clergy, it was felt that many of our Catholic faith communities are unforgiving regarding priests and religious who make mistakes. One of the clergy expressed the gap he experienced between the expectations on him and the limitations he has as a human being. It was acknowledged that we are variously gifted but that this is often an untapped resource and that more encouragement is needed for laity to ‘step up’ into active ministries. It was felt that we do not affirm our priests enough for their homilies and that not enough is being done in promoting vocations, not only at schools and parishes but especially within families. The need to encourage teachers to be more pro-active in promoting the Catholic faith and ethos was again raised as a concern and opportunity. There was a felt need to offer and promote much more “local” courses of formation so people did not have to travel as far for access to such nourishment.
Those who looked at the mission of a new evangelisation affirmed the need to name the contact points for evangelisation, including our sacramental programs which reach across school, family and parish and baptismal preparation and other liturgical moments such as marriage which were viewed as ‘prime times’ for evangelising.
It was here that the point was strongly made that we, as Catholics, need to express the joy of being Catholic, that our animation and attitude are key to good evangelisation. We need to promote joyful, loving and welcoming communities in our own parishes where people know each other and express this visibly. We also need much more personal engagement at a personal level to encourage people back to Church and that one-on-one, personal invitation is critical to people returning to the Church. Engaging in topical talks on issues of the day attracted many people, an experience that the people of Penrith appreciated in recent months.
We thank the keen and enthusiastic parishioners who participated in this consultation. It was even more poignant to reflect on the past and future of parish communities given the transition of clergy at Penrith and Kingswood parishes in recent times. In this respect, there was gratefulness for the ministry of Fr Chris de Souza over many years and also Fr John Watkins, and anticipation of the ministry of incoming clergy to Penrith, Fr Mathew Antony and Fr Jose Mandalay. We certainly look forward to sharing the summary of the night’s discussion with the priests and people of this region for their future pastoral life and mission.
Yours in Christ,
Fr Paul Marshall
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On Thursday night (16th August, 2012), parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Baulkham Hills South, and Christ the King Parish came together at North Rocks to discuss initiatives toward the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. The gathering included representatives from associated school communities as well as youth representatives from the local parish.
Family life and the new evangelisation were the most popular priorities of the evening. It was affirming to read one table’s description of our parishes as ‘communities of hope’, recognising that our communities are already sharing faith and nurturing communion at a local level with great openness to building on that pastoral life into the future.
The need to provide better support for those who have lost a spouse or family member was raised as an continuing imperative for the Church now and into the future, as was the need to affirm our married couples throughout their relationship and gather parents of the recently baptised through liturgical celebrations and reunions. Our Catholic education system was named as a strong feature of our Diocese though it was felt parishes and schools needed to work more closely together to form children, especially teenagers, effectively in the faith. The combined witness of parish and school communities continues to be a strong theme of this consultation as a key relationship for future evangelisation.
Welcome was viewed as essential to a sense of ecclesial belonging and a registry of new parishioners was suggested in this respect. Inter-parish events were raised as a possible initiative to draw youth into involvement as was a dedicated youth team within each parish, if not already in place, to organise and coordinate pastoral activity.
Those who focused on the ethnic diversity of our Diocese suggested festivals and events at a local parish level to invite the exchange of faith and experiences between all members of our communities. This was also a recommendation picked up by some of our ethnic communities who have recently begun submitting their own responses to our pastoral plan.
In the area of laity and clergy, it was suggested that parishes themselves undertake processes of consultation to identify local needs and opportunities. It has certainly been one of our encouragements that planning need not wait for our Diocesan Pastoral Plan but can always be an activity of communities seeking to identify and live a common mission at a grassroots level.
Improving the visibility of our ministries and parish activities was a further suggestion while sharing practical wisdom across the Diocese was also recommended. It is hoped that the Pastoral Plan will be just one opportunity for the wisdom of our many parishes and chaplains to be shared through a common document, taking in your suggestions from our current process of conversation.
Finally, in the area of evangelisation the challenge of witness was front and centre of the discussion. To be an evangelising Church is to be a community that is itself evangelised by the Gospel, to be disciples who are faith-filled and expressing that faith through service and prayer. Other comments in this area of mission included the need of a greater presence in online social networks and also the commitment to follow up with new Catholics who have progressed through our RCIA process. Our schools were also named as a centre of evangelisation at the heart of the Church’s mission.
Thank you to both parish communities for contributing their vision at North Rocks and we look forward to the final consultations being held at Penrith, Mt Druitt, Kellyville, Springwood, Merrylands and Blackheath.
Our second interim report will be out in mid-September so please keep an eye on this website and blog, your parish bulletins and the next issue of the Catholic Outlook. It will also contain a message from Bishop Anthony and our own response as a pastoral planning team to the consultations thus far.
Yours in Christ,
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