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Sense of hope, responsibility as Plenary assembly begins


As the opening session of the first general assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia got underway yesterday, members in Adelaide spoke of their excitement, hope and sense of responsibility being part of the historic gathering.

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Restricted to being a virtual assembly due to the pandemic, members in Adelaide said they felt fortunate to be able to still gather throughout this week at Archbishop’s House.

“I am just so glad we are able to come together as a group here in Adelaide,” Archbishop Patrick O’Regan told The Southern Cross prior to the start of the 10.30am session.

“We have our own mini hub and it is the conversations we have that make all the difference and puts a human face on it as well. Technology is good when it works but it is not quite the same as being together.”

Archbishop O’Regan said he was “hopeful” for the discussions that lay ahead as part of the first Plenary Council held in Australia for 84 years.

“It’s good when the Pope agrees with you because he is starting this process right throughout the church. In a couple of weeks’ time we launch the International Synod and so I am glad we are seeing what that means, putting a human face on it.

“It’s not a crisis, it’s a hope,” he added.

To start Monday’s session, Archbishop O’Regan celebrated Mass for members joining the Adelaide hub, including Emeritus Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Emeritus Bishop Eugene Hurley, Fr Philip Marshall, lay members Monica Conway, Ian Cameron and Julian Nguyen; Claire Victory (St Vincent de Paul Society) and John Lochowiak (Aboriginal Catholic Ministry). Adelaide lay members Kiara Ryan and Maddy Forde are both attending virtually from interstate.

Reflecting on the discussions ahead, Ms Conway said she felt “privileged” to be one of the 278 members of the Council.

“There was the sense yesterday (Sunday) at the opening Mass of the momentous occasion and the preparation that has taken to get here,” she said.

“I feel a sense of real responsibility which is both exciting and a bit daunting because of that privilege.”

Mr Lochowiak said he was looking forward to his involvement in the Council and “feeling positive”.

“I think it’s what we need at the moment… what I am really excited about is people being able to come together,” he said.

Ms Victory said she was grateful for the “optimism” being shown by members and “everyone is coming with the right spirit and the right approach”.

“I am just hoping that the accommodation of the agenda, technology and format is going to enable the discussions that need to be had, can be had. I’m also definitely feeling for these people who are completely alone in their homes – we’re at least fortunate to be able to come together,” she said.

In his opening address in the first session, Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB – who on Sunday inaugurated the Council by celebrating the opening Mass – reflected on St Paul and the writings of Pope Francis when outlining the important task members are undertaking.

“As today as we take this bold and crucial step forward in our own response to the call for the Church’s transformation we can be inspired and encouraged by the energy, persistence, creativity and fidelity of Saint Paul and by the dream of Pope Francis whose words have helped inspire and shape the agenda which will guide us through the days ahead,” he said.

Archbishop Costelloe acknowledged that members would likely be coming with “high hopes”, “great expectations”, but also “conscious of the heavy responsibility we bear”.

“In the mysterious ways of God’s providence, it is we who have been called together to undertake this historic and grace-filled task on behalf of the whole Catholic community of our nation,” he said.

“In an important sense, therefore, we come as representatives of the People of God in Australia. We carry with us, as a privilege and as a responsibility, the precious and sometimes fragile faith of God’s people: we carry their hopes and dreams, their pain and suffering, their joy and their optimism, their fears and their hesitations.”

During the opening session Pope Francis also sent his greetings and blessings from Rome.

He said the Plenary Council “represents a singular ‘journeying together’ of God’s people in Australia along the paths of history towards a renewed encounter with the Risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit”.

The message, read by Msgr John Baptist Itaruma from the Apostolic Nunciature in Australia, said Pope Francis “prays that the Council may be a graced occasion for mutual listening and spiritual discernment, marked by profound Communion with the Successor of Peter”, a term used to describe the Pope.

“In this conciliar process, the Church in Australia is challenged to listen to the voice of the Spirit and to bear witness to the perennial truth of the Gospel and to develop new and creative expressions of evangelical charity,” said the message, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, in a message to Pope Francis said the Council’s members were “deeply conscious that the Plenary Council takes its place within the universal Church”.

“Our ardent hope is that the Plenary Council will be a gift not just for the Church in Australia but for the Church around the world,” he said.

“Pope St John Paul II described the Second Vatican Council as ‘the great grace given to the Church in the twentieth century’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte). For us, the Plenary Council is the great grace given to the Church in Australia at the dawn of the 21st century.”


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