By Lisa Zengarini
The first assembly of the Plenary Council of Australia, which has been postponed to October 2021, due to the COVID-19 crisis, will take place in a “multi-modal” format, that is with a combination of online and face-to-face participation. The yearlong event, which is the most important national Catholic gathering in Australia since 1937, was originally to start last October, with the first of the two assemblies scheduled in Adelaide from October 4-11 and the second in Sydney, from June 28 to July 3 2021.
First gathering in a mixed format
After postponing both sessions, Australian Bishops have agreed to convene the first gathering in a mixed format, as uncertainty remains over restrictions on travel and gatherings at that time. Among other concerns, the Adelaide venue is unlikely to be able to host the gathering of more than 300 people due to social distancing requirements, as Plenary Council president, Archbishop Timothy John Costelloe SDB, explained. Under the mixed format, delegates will meet in local groups – diocesan, inter-diocesan or provincial – and participate in some Council sessions within those groups. Other sessions will take place with those groups engaging in conversation, prayer and discernment with other groups around Australia.
Looking to the future
The Fifth Plenary Council was convened by the Australian Church to reflect about the future, the role and relevance of the Catholic Church in Australia, heeding Pope Francis’ invitation to dialogue with society, in the light of the significant changes that have taken place in Australian society over the past decades and also of the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in the Church.
Dialogue and Listening
The preparation process began in 2018 with the launch of Dialogue and Listening meetings held in all Australian dioceses, which were attended by more than 222,000 faithful who presented over 17,000 contributions, dealing with a vast range of issues: church governance, right-to-life issues, youth ministry, sexual abuse in the Church, role of women and lay people etc... They helped to give a picture of the reality of the Church in Australia today, but also of the hopes, questions and aspirations of Australian Catholics.
Listening and Discernment
Once this phase was completed, the second phase began in June 2019, that of "Listening and discernment", to identify the issues to be put on the Council's agenda. The voices in the Listening and Dialogue submissions inspired the Six National Themes for Discernment, which have served as guides through the second phase. They include: Missionary and Evangelising; Inclusive, Participatory and Synodal; Prayerful and Eucharistic; Humble, Healing and Merciful; A Joyful, Hope-Filled and Servant Community, Open to conversion, Renewal and Reform.