As mentioned in our last Faith in Our Future blog, the Pastoral Planning Team spent a day with the priests and deacons of our Diocese to discuss the developing vision of the pastoral plan. Bishop Anthony opened and closed the gathering with reflections on the journey of planning to date, reflecting on the hope and challenges of our time. As valued participants in our 2012 parish consultations, we share with you a summary of Bishop Anthony’s address to clergy as we look ahead to the February 2014 launch of Faith in Our Future.
We are celebrating the jubilee of an ecumenical council. It occurred at an exciting time in the life of Church and society, one of extraordinary demographic, economic, cultural and religious change. Though hoping for a new springtime for the Church, the Council fathers were also aware of serious challenges to faith and morals: the fall away from traditional religion in the West, the lure of alternative philosophies and spiritualities, the good and bad effects of affluence, the trivialisation of sexuality and so on.
The Council and subsequent popes recognised that a new wave of evangelisation was needed, delivered by apostolically engaged clergy, religious and laity. And by God’s grace it came, especially through new ecclesial movements. Consider, if you will, just one of these new movements. Its founder is a charismatic guy, in both senses. Relying on providence he has established many communities of priests, consecrated women and lay people. Preaching and community, modelled on the apostolic generation, are their therapies for a corrupt culture and somnolent Church. They don’t conform neatly to traditional diocesan structures, forms of religious life, or roles for the laity – which annoys some people. Some think them strange and secretive, their growth and passion alarming, their practices unseemly. They are dogged by rumours, fuelled by jealousy, and accused of ‘poaching’ worshippers, benefactors and seminarians from the local Church. But they remain single-minded in their response to the call of the Council, the Popes, above all the Gospel.
I am referring, of course, to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 and to St Dominic and his Order of Preachers, soon to celebrate their eighth centenary. You might have thought I was referring to the 50-year-young Second Vatican Council and the call of recent popes for a New Evangelisation. But this call has been heard many times in history, in response to backsliding or more radical confusion. By God’s grace new apostolic energies, structures and approaches have often followed, and the Church has flowered when least expected. Consider the letters of Paul written to re-evangelise young communities already divided and lapsing in faith or morals; or Benedictine monasticism rising from the ashes of the Roman Empire; or orders of friars responding to new ideas and affluence in the Middle Ages; or the Jesuits – and we are all Jesuits now – responding to fission in the old world and opportunity in the new; or the eruption of 19th Century congregations, including St Mary’s MacKillop’s Josephites, as secularist movements had nearly snuffed out religious life.
New evangelisations every century or so are the ordinary rhythm of Church renewal. To bring the Gospel to all: this was the mission of our Saviour and the mandate given to His Church. To evangelise is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and bring people to faith through a personal encounter with Him – a task logically and chronologically prior even to worship and action for justice and compassion. There will be no Catholic dioceses and parishes unless people are inspired to serve Christ and as Paul asked: “How are people to call upon Christ if they don’t believe in Him? And how are they to believe in Him if they’ve never heard of Him? And how are they to hear of Him without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) But as Paul discovered, once the preacher has drawn people to Christ, the job is still incomplete. Re-evangelisation will be required: once is not enough for the proclamation and hearing of the Gospel, nor is one presenter, mode or rhetoric of articulation. The Gospel must be proclaimed to every human being, institution and culture and, once Christian, they need periodic re-evangelisation and re-catechising. And, of course, they also need leadership, worship and pastoral care.
So we have embarked upon our pastoral planning process in the shadow of the Second Vatican Council and a long tradition that goes before it, and we have done so with great faith in our future, confident that renewal comes again and again to our Church.
It is an exciting time in our Diocese of Parramatta. In the space of a month I’ll have blessed the common spaces for a new seminary at Harris Park; a new shrine to the Holy Innocents in Kellyville; a new school building at St Paul’s College, Greystanes; and a new Parramatta CBD Catholic bookshop and chapel. A new presbytery is being built at Merrylands and a new church at Rouse Hill and others have been mooted. The project with respect to Old Kings is now in planning. There have been developments with respect to some other diocesan holdings and various fundraising initiatives. There’s been serious work done on strategic planning regarding our finances so as to enable these and future projects, as well as cover recurrent calls upon the Diocese. The Parramatta Diocese is booming – thanks be to God and His people – and we can hardly keep up with the demand!
The buildings are an expression of our people and there to serve them. The faith is strong in them and so in the Parramatta Diocese. According to the most recent figures, 31.6% of the Parramatta population are Catholic. (This makes us the second most Catholic area in Australia, just behind Wagga Wagga.) Of the 332,000 Catholics in our Diocese at census time two years ago, 85,000 were born in non-English-speaking countries. We all know that we have one of the most ethnically diverse and dynamic communities not just in Australia but in the world.
We also have youth on our side. At a recent Bishop’s Breakfast with Youth, Cardinal Pell said that he and the other bishops of Australia could only envy a Diocese that has 90 active youth groups and ministries. Our participation in the forthcoming World Youth Day will be outstanding. Our 77 systemic, five congregational and three PARED schools enrol more than 50,000 students, including ever-growing numbers of Indigenous and Special Needs students, and our enrolments are growing, both at primary and secondary level. All this activity continues apace, despite all the negative publicity about past failures by the Church with respect to the young. Our parishes, too, are vibrant and our families strong.
But we must not be complacent. Much of this growth is fuelled by migration and Catholic migration, at least, is slowing. Despite the continued influx of Filipinos and more recent arrival of many Indians and Sudanese Catholics, immigration to Western Sydney is now diluting the Catholic proportion of the population rather than growing it. Harris Park has changed from being a Maronite suburb to being a Hindu one in just 10 years. Many of the old timers, especially the ‘blue eyes’, are all-too-often absent from the ordinary life of our parishes and more than one-quarter of them now declare that they have ‘no religion’.
Our parish boundaries, buildings and other plant, our educational and social services, our groups and movements, have not always moved with the people and their needs. Thus, some parts of the Diocese are well beyond capacity (in terms of spaces in pews or at school desks, or in terms of demand for other care) and while this is a good problem to have, it does mean we have to face some hard decisions about where we put our pastors and resources. If you were starting from scratch, you would not build a cathedral here in Parramatta surrounded by satellite churches in North Parramatta, North Rocks and Baulkham Hills South, Westmead, Wentworthville and Merrylands, Granville, Granville East and Harris Park, Rydalmere and Dundas Valley, all within a few minutes’ drive of here. Of course, we’re not starting from scratch: we have long-established communities, often with histories and deep personal investment in a particular building, pastor or Mass time. But we have to acknowledge that the new suburbs are mushrooming before our eyes are struggling to meet the needs and must have our attention too. The solution is not simply opening or closing churches, chapels or Mass centres; as we will see today, it is above all about a stronger engagement with our communities and tapping into their passions and energies.
We must attract more people to the ordinary life of the Church, especially those who already are or should be Catholic, as well as those yet to discover that we are their spiritual home. It is, to return to my opening remarks, about the New Evangelisation: reaching out and preaching not just to the ‘converted’ and even the ‘unconverted’, but also and perhaps especially to the ‘diverted’. Putting up a building dedicated to St Maud with a smiling priest and an envelope system is not enough any more, if it ever was: we have to focus more than ever before on reaching out, welcoming, following-up, offering people dynamic preaching, worship and service.
The Diocesan Pastoral Plan will focus our minds on many areas where we can do just this and I have great faith in it and in you, my brother priests with your communities. I believe that when that plan is ready for publication and action it will be offering much: not ‘motherhood’ statements, but real and better ways to serve God and His people.
Pope Francis talks New Evangelisation ever more than his predecessors. Many point to the 2007 Aparecida Document of the Latin America Bishops, to which he was a significant contributor, as a sign of his program. It calls the Church to focus on “confirming, renewing and revitalising” the preaching of the Gospel so as to bring about “a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ”. Echoing Pope Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est, it insists that “we must all start again from Christ, recognising that being Christian is the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
In a lecture given the day before Pope John Paul II died, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger spoke in stark terms of ‘a spiritual disease’ spreading through the West. We used to be able to rely on the culture to carry us: laws and public policies, arts and sciences, the media, the health, welfare and education systems, all were essentially Christian in their inspiration and so they reinforced reverence for the sacred and ideals of respect for human dignity. Families, parishes and schools played a major part, but they could rely upon the support of each other and of the surrounding environment and so, when one link was weak, the others covered. But at least back to the time of Paul VI and Evangelii Nuntiandi the popes have recognised that this support can no longer be presumed. Of course, there is still considerable Christian capital in our culture and institutions. But we need new energies, new directions, new strategies, new people.
The phenomenon of clergy sexual abuse of children obviously hasn’t helped. As Ratzinger observed: “The negative testimony of Christians who speak about God and live against Him has darkened God’s image and opened the door to disbelief.” We are all anxious about the turbulence ahead for the Church as the Royal Commission rehashes old cases and unearths new ones of the failures of brother priests and bishops. We will apologise again and again for these terrible deeds, we will put justice and healing for victims first, we will keep trying to improve our own approaches so as to combat this evil and ensure it is not repeated, we will do much better at ensuring that all young people entrusted to our care are kept safe, we will cooperate with God in purifying our Church and we will try to rebuild trust with our own people and the wider community. I trust you all know I am serious about this.
We know that child abuse is not the whole story of the Church. The Catholic Church has long played a crucial role in our society. Holy priests and religious have worked tirelessly for the glory of God and the good of their people. Vast numbers of people benefit from the Church’s activity in education, health, welfare ministry to young people, ethnic and other chaplaincy, service to the poor and marginalised and, above all, in parish life. There is deep faith and compassion among our pastors and people. We should not lose sight of this amidst the current consciousness of failures.
Our Diocesan Pastoral Plan is a sign of hope: that our Diocese continues to grow despite the challenges; that our pastors and people are determined to meet those challenges head on and respond with compassion and creativity. That so many people still look to us, their priests, with gratitude and trust helps us to carry on, even as we know that having God’s support is enough. As our Diocese continues to develop so, too, will the faith of its members, existing and future. You know our people’s needs better than anyone. So I welcome your input.
Thank you Daniel Ang, Pastoral Planning Officer, and Very Rev Paul Marshall EV, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation & Pastoral Planning, for your informative and detailed discussions about the goals and content of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan as it has been evolving, particularly as it relates to parish life and the life of the clergy. Thank you for the extraordinary work you have been doing since this pastoral planning idea began. I know that other dioceses have been so impressed by what they’ve heard that they are asking for input from you for their own future pastoral planning.
Hopefully, today’s discussions and the ongoing conversation it invites will enrich the theological vision and practical strategies in the plan. Earlier today I expressed my own confidence in and personal hopes for the Pastoral Plan. Now I want to acknowledge the immense amount of hard work and dedicated effort have been put into the plan already and pray that this will bear fruit.
I began today by proposing as the overall context for this plan the missionary impulse of the Church to proclaim afresh the Gospel to every generation, including to her own and those who should be. Let me conclude by delving just a little deeper into that. I believe the plan will gather together lots of practical ideas on how to bring Christ to more people and bring more people to Him. Our golden jubilarian Second Vatican Council called the Church a sacrament, a sign and instrument of God’s communion with humanity and the communion among men and women (LG 1). This sacramental goal, this ultimate communion, is what our plan is for.
In this regard, what Daniel highlighted as two central goals of Faith in Our Future is worth repeating: first, enabling a growth in faith among our people, a personal and corporate conversion to the Person and message of Jesus Christ. This means coming to know Jesus personally and incorporating His Gospel into our everyday lives – as individuals, parishes, chaplaincies, agencies, a whole Diocese. This undergirds all our plans: the desire to ensure the encounter with Christ that “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 1).
The flipside of this growth in faith is sharing our faith. Having received amazing grace we want to sing it from the rooftops; it is imperative to communicate what we have received to others. God the Father begets or speaks or (perhaps best) sings the Word of God from all eternity; that song is sung in time in Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh; we are joined to that song as musical notes, as choristers, as instruments in an orchestra that is the communion of the Church on earth and in heaven. To know the Most Holy Trinity is to be driven to expand the circle of that communion to others in Western Sydney. As Daniel has suggested, this means witness and words. I agree wholeheartedly with him that the success of the Pastoral Plan will be measured by the growth in our people’s personal relationship with Christ, by the stories of conversion and healing, of more frequent reception of the Sacraments, of hearts more open to Scripture and Tradition, of a deeper sense of identity and mission.
This dovetails nicely with Fr Paul’s words about us all having the vision, generosity, courage and humility to be active missionaries. We are sent to preach the good news to the poor, not to wait at home for them to turn up. Of course, many will turn up anyway, whatever we do or don’t do, individually or as communities. But the essentially missionary nature of the Church demands that we go out seeking souls. And if anyone is to listen to our Gospel they must see it pondered, treasured, lived in us. The conversion must start with us clergy, with our listening to God’s Word and receiving His Sacraments before we communicate either to others.
I have great confidence in the Pastoral Plan because I have great confidence in the people of the Diocese of Parramatta and especially in their clergy. As my principal collaborators in the mission of the Church, as the fishy, sheepish local pastors who know the sheep, as the servant-leaders of and collaborators with so many wonderful lay people, you are generous, you are positive, you are men of God. Keep being that for the sheep and the lambs. With Faith in our Future we commend all our pastoral planning to God.
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