Faith in Our Future Blog - September 2012
On Saturday 15 September, 2012, we joined the parishes of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Parish, Upper Blue Mountains, and Sacred Heart Parish, Blackheath for the final consultation of this phase of the planning process. It was an immensely rich conversation, full of energy and a sincere willingness to discuss and listen to one another about the best ways of realising our common mission as Church. Thank you to all for the warm welcome and the graciousness with which we were received.
Parish priest of Blackheath, Fr Bob Sheridan led us in prayer as we turned to discuss the present features of the Diocese before addressing our hopes for the future. It was encouraging to see the level of engagement throughout the afternoon, with participants freely raising questions and sharing a diversity of perspectives in good faith.
The participants that addressed family life affirmed the good work of St Vincent de Paul and other social support organisations that were meeting the needs of families and those in difficult circumstances, both locally and throughout the greater Diocese. In the face of growing needs, it was heartening to learn of community initiatives including the support of single Catholic families by older parishioners.
One of the affirmations of the afternoon was that many forms of outreach and service need not wait for a Diocesan Pastoral Plan but, as acknowledged in our interim report, can be realised more locally and immediately with appropriate parish planning and collaboration, existing parish teams and resources. However, it is hoped that the Diocesan Pastoral Plan will assist parishes by raising ideas and recommendations for local application, drawing on the wisdom of all forty-nine of our parish communities. As we look back over the past eight months, we recognise that each of our parishes have their own histories, strengths and pastoral concerns but these, rather than isolating our communities, stands to bring much richness to the recommendations as we review the insights of the past months of conversation.
There was a felt need to invite and welcome tentative or more timid Catholics to actively participate in the life of the Church, contributing their gifts to the whole. A further area of need strongly identified throughout the afternoon was the need to attend to the elderly, including those who are housebound and in aged care facilities. It was suggested that an increase in such services in the Mountains be considered and we certainly hope to engage CatholicCare in these important issues. Family retreats were raised as a forward opportunity and the centrality of joyful witness was recognised to be at the heart of our capacity to be an evangelising Church, an evangelising Catholic family. Other local issues were raised in writing which will be taken up by the planning team.
In the area of youth, the support of young people attending World Youth Day was named as a strength though some raised issues of equity in the accessibility of these overseas experiences for all young people throughout the Diocese. The capacity of parents to transmit the faith to their children was also questioned and so formation was advanced as a key and ongoing commitment for the Diocese. Forming young people in Scripture and Christian morality were seen as vital and it was essential to do so without condescension.
The collaboration of laity and clergy was another theme of the afternoon. Lay involvement in liturgical ministries, faith formation activities and the Institute for Mission were affirmed as awakening the baptismal discipleship of the laity though it was asked that consideration be given to the provision of courses and formation close to the Mountains deanery. There was enthusiasm for the expansion of the diaconate and of the support of deacons working in collaboration with parish priests and parishioners in service of local communities. There was an expressed desire and commitment to pray for our priests and support them in their ministry. The perceived obstacles to collaboration were also named in discussion and the need of formation of both clergy and laity for such collaborative ministry was underscored.
In the mission of evangelisation, sacramental programs and faith and life groups such as the Legion of Mary were affirmed for their potential. However, the need to reach out to ‘shut-ins,’ that is, those who are housebound, was again highlighted as was the need for creativity to offer activities and events to draw people back into the life of our communities. New initiatives that were suggested included a welcome pack for parishes to engage newcomers, better formation in faith and the practice of evangelisation, fellowship with others outside the context of liturgy and the study of Scripture in small communities of the faithful where intimacy and sharing of the Word can take place.
Thank you to Fr Bob Sheridan and the Blackheath parish council for their tremendous assistance and promotion of the consultation in the weeks preceding, as well as to the parishioners of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop who also took part and shared their passionate concerns and aspirations. It was an opportunity for us to learn more about these local communities and a remarkable consultation to conclude with, providing much hope for the future.
Further updates on our progress will be made available as the work of developing the Pastoral Plan unfolds. Of course, while our live parish consultations have now concluded we continue to welcome submissions here on our website. Simply click here to send us your responses or suggestions.
Yours in Christ,
Posted by Daniel Ang at 7:01 PM Comments (0) Permalink
On Tuesday 11 September, 2012, we joined the parishes of St Mary Margaret, Merrylands, and Holy Trinity, Granville, for a Faith in our Future consultation. The Pauline Fathers at Merrylands were represented by Fr Damian Mosakowski OSPPE who, together with parishioners and youth team, made everyone most welcome to the gathering.
Those who responded to the priority of family life affirmed the devotion of many Catholics and their present-day outreach to families in faith. It was good to hear of this commitment alive in our parishes. It was felt that more could be done, however, to promote the Catholic faith as attractive and compelling, through our own witness to the difference that faith makes in our lives as well as through formation which allows people to approach the liturgy and other experiences of faith with attentiveness and responsiveness. Building social connections following Mass was seen as a natural and fitting consequence of the communion shared within the liturgy and there an increasing challenge was named for families – to keep the Lord’s Day holy through quality time together and rest from the demands of the working week.
In concert with previous consultation feedback, it was suggested that young people could be better engaged with social justice issues which allow them to integrate faith and life.
Like adults, it was felt that young people need formation in faith and the task ahead was to build on many of the good things already happening throughout the Diocese in this area. The issue of mental illness and social alienation among youth was also raised as an area of need where the Church needs to be present while it was suggested that all needed to be challenged to deeper discipleship, in the family, in the school and parish.
The groups that explored ethnic diversity named the need to invite migrant groups to share their input with parish communities. Certainly we hope our ongoing consultation with the ethnic groups of the Diocese will help facilitate and support this kind of communication. The need for our migrant groups to be well represented in the visible ministries of the Church was also identified as an important aspect of not only being a Church of diversity but giving witness to that gift in our ministerial and liturgical life.
It was felt there was good support for the clergy in the Diocese, including from the parish communities where they ministered and that there was good local support for seniors through friendship groups and other pastoral care initiatives. This was encouraging news as care for the elderly has been a growing theme of the consultation process. In the support of laity, it was recommended that new welcomers be introduced to parishes periodically, not only to invite others into ministry but to meet newcomers with a diversity of existing parishioners, of different age, background and faith experience.
In the area of evangelisation there was an emphasis on the need to communicate the tradition and teachings of the Church with clarity and to also foster participation in groups which have proved meaningful and genuinely transformative for our people. It was recommended that formation be encouraging at a parish level, including in the Catechism as a resource for faith and the Scriptures as a living source of our discipleship.
Thank you to the parishioners of both Merrylands and Granville for their thoughtful responses and strength of faith. We learned much about local initiatives and concerns that are relevant for all parishes and communities that are seeking to grow and reach out to those in their midst. Our appreciation once again to the hospitality and youth teams at St Margaret Mary’s Parish, as well as to the school, for making this animated conversation possible.
Yours in Christ,
Posted by Daniel Ang at 7:17 AM Comments (0) Permalink
On Saturday 8 September, 2012, we gathered with religious congregations, institutes and communities who are working or living within the Diocese of Parramatta for a specially convened consultation toward our Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
With a diversity of charisms, apostolates and traditions, the participating religious communities were energetic in their engagement of the present and future life of the Diocese. Sr Ailsa MacKinnon, Vicar for Religious, led us in prayer as we spent two hours reflecting on the diocesan priorities that were shared at previous consultations.
An emphasis on the potential of the family as a source and expression of faith was underscored, with a strong emphasis on the need for adult formation for parents and the importance for the Church as a whole to reach out and connect with these families, especially those experiencing difficult times, through visitation and homilies directed at family issues of relevance. It was felt that the sacraments of the Church needed to be communicated holistically, not as isolated events but as invitations and realisations of a relationship that was life-long.
Two groups looked at our response to young people and the challenge of nurturing ongoing connections between students and parishes, and so participation in Church life beyond school age, was named. It was recommended that young people be given good opportunities to express the Gospel in action through works of justice and pastoral care, and it was further suggested that the Diocese and parish youth groups also look to programs within religious orders that are making a real impact on the lives of young people, for instance the Remar program run by the Marist Brothers.
In the area of ethnic diversity, it was affirmed that many parishes and faith communities are good at welcoming migrants into their life. However, it was suggested that the awareness of diverse migrant backgrounds was not strongly integrated into our parish sacramental programs nor was communication always effective and this could stifle mutual understanding and ultimately participation. It was affirmed that the Planning Team has indeed consulted the migrant communities of the Diocese through their relevant chaplains and community leaders, with that conversation continuing in ensuing months. The need to foster the visibility of our ethnic communities in parish life and liturgy was also named as an opportunity that each parish could realise in the coming years.
There was praise for the Institute for Mission by those who explored issues of laity and clergy, with a call to expand such formation services for the development of lay leadership. It was recognised that the many religious of the Diocese share their charisms with school and parish communities as well, supporting and enhancing the experience discipleship in these contexts. There was felt need to balance religious fervour with actions toward peace and justice and formation in the seminary needed to be holistic and ready these young men for collaborative ministry in parishes and beyond. It was recommended that parishes continue to sponsor people to attend courses at the Institute for Mission, that communication between parishes be strengthened to enable the sharing of resources, and that good support be provided for those working at the coalface of the Church in parish ministries.
Last but not least the issue of evangelisation was taken up and the formation of lay leaders was again underlined as critical to an evangelising Church. Those evangelising moments, including the sacraments, that surface in the lives of individuals and families were reinforced as key opportunities for nurturing faith while the need to respond to people in the reality of their life situation was named as a key Gospel imperative, opening the way to faith and participation.
Thank you to all those religious who participated in this consultation, particularly on a busy Saturday with local council elections and community commitments also at play. The religious of the Diocese continue to make an extraordinary contribution to the life of the faith community and the broader community of Western Sydney. In light of this it was an important and an enriching experience to hear their own perspective on the issues and opportunities that lie ahead for us as a Church.
Yours in Christ,
Posted by Daniel Ang at 12:34 PM Comments (0) Permalink
Over 120 parishioners from the parishes of Our Lady of the Nativity, Lawson, and St Thomas Aquinas, Springwood, gathered at the Bishop Manning Learning Centre in Springwood on Tuesday 4th September, 2012. There was an enthusiastic engagement of the five diocesan pastoral priorities. Participants also felt a strong need to speak about local issues which fell outside of the five priorities but which nevertheless impact on their mission as disciples. Challenges included the need for more consideration of the elderly in aged care facilities, stronger engagement of youth in the liturgy, the availability of the sacraments for communities, and the lack of adult faith formation available in the Mountains. While the parishes acknowledged their limited experience of ethnic diversity there was a recognition that they have resources which might be of benefit to other parishes in their deanery and throughout the Diocese.
When conversation began in the area of family life, there was a ready acceptance of younger families with children at Mass (it has been said that “when a child cries it’s the choir of angels!”). It was felt that pastoral visits and the taking of communion by parishioners was a source of comfort for those who were sick or housebound. It was also shared that parishes needed to facilitate more communal activities outside of the context of Mass, for instance courses to help families growth and flourish and to provide opportunities for renewal. There was the suggestion of a ‘men’s shed’ or similar to assist with local projects while also creating sociality and building community. We are certainly aware of such a men’s shed at Baulkham Hills South parish which provides a gathering point for men.
In terms of connecting better with the young it was felt that we need to show our young people the beauty of the Mass and to use a language suitable for teaching and proclaiming the Gospel to that age group. The issue of transport was a challenge for the towns of the Mountains but there was a desire to gather the youth together from Lawson, Katoomba, Springwood and Glenbrook when possible. One sacramental challenge being faced in the vicinity is the need for confessions to be booked for youth are often unwilling to ring for this. It was observed that the young people are coming to youth group but not going to Mass and so meaningful connections with the liturgy and the broader parish community need to be strengthened. There was an argument for more simple readings at Mass for children and a desire to include youth more within the liturgy as readers and altar servers. Homilies need to speak to the issues in young people’s lives and the lives of their families, with additional suggestions being the employment of a full-time youth minister with a focus on the 18+ age group in tertiary education and the need of more faith formation, especially in high schools.
While it was acknowledged that the parishes have limited experience of ethnic diversity and have limited knowledge about what happens in other parishes of the Diocese, there were teachers in the Springwood-Lawson area whose skills could benefit other parishes either in the Mountains or in other areas of the Diocese, it was suggested. For instance, such persons could share practical living skills and also help to enable intercultural exchange within other communities of faith where such diversity exists. There was also the challenge of recognising the local Indigenous members of the Blue Mountains as a significant ethnic group and the outreach of parishes to them. A way forward may be for parish “pairings” whereby less ethnically diverse and more ethnically diverse parishes invite each other to liturgies and social gatherings. It was felt that we need to incorporate Indigenous aspects (or at least a respect towards them) into our liturgies.
In the area of clergy and laity, there was an expressed need to adapt or change attitudes and expectations of both groups. On the one hand, there is a need to respect and honour the humanity of clergy, encouraging more social contact with the community. On the other hand, there is a need to give more responsibility to the laity. Linked to this is the need for better communication and consultation between clergy and laity. Formation is needed for both clergy and laity and one of the key areas identified was adult formation e.g. Bible study groups. There was the suggestion that parishes (e.g. 3 parishes) share the cost and services of a business manager, freeing the priest to focus on his ministry over administration.
In terms of the new evangelisation it was felt that E-conferences on faith are well presented and that faith-talks given by local priest Fr Eugene Stockton have been valuable in the area. The role-modelling of faith by Fr Peter Connelly at St Columba’s College was seen as important. There was a real need to inject dynamism and passion into our personal witness of the Word of God in our lives. Some of the challenges faced by parishioners included the inadequacy of trying to evangelise their own children; a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and the Catechism; a lack of encouragement of each other and networking with each other and not having a strong sense of community identity. Developing a website could disseminate information about what was on and be an important tool of evangelisation. There was a perception that the Catholic Outlook and its public image was very centred on the priesthood and the Bishop without the same acknowledgment of lay participation and leadership. It was felt that effective evangelising needs to begin with a commitment of the laity to come alongside visitors and newcomers to parishes in a spirit of welcome. Social outreach and good works were also seen as effective tools of evangelisation. Catholic schools could also be effective centres of evangelization, outreaching to parents who are ‘unchurched’ or otherwise disengaged from the life of faith.
The large gathering of parishioners showed a real concern for the present and future pastoral directions in the Blue Mountains. The Bishop Manning Learning Centre provided an ideal place for the pastoral planning consultation. There was a real sense of energy and purpose in the evening and a willingness to engage in new and also well-tried ways of bringing the Gospel to people. Our thanks go to all participants and the local organisers who made it all possible.
Fr. Paul Marshall
Posted by Daniel Ang at 9:05 AM Comments (3) Permalink