While 1.3 million Catholics in Australia were born overseas, the percentage of Catholics born in non-English speaking countries is only slightly higher in 2016 (19.2 per cent) than it was in 1996 (18.9 per cent).
So while migrants are contributing significantly to the make-up of the Catholic community, they always have done so and they will continue to have a big impact in the future.
Data released by the National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR) also shows that the number of Catholics aged 65 and over has increased over the same 10 year period from 10.9 per cent of the total Catholic population to 16.6 per cent and the number of Catholics living alone has risen from 346,322 to 461,185.
Of course we don’t need statistics to tell us what we see from looking around the pews on any given Sunday in most churches around the State. A high proportion of elderly women and couples, the odd family with young children and a scattering of worshippers from different cultural backgrounds are the norm in my parish.
But research is the backbone of good strategic planning and the NCPR will have an important role to play in the lead up to the Plenary Council 2020 gatherings in Adelaide and Sydney.
Already the NCPR is helping with phase one of this journey – titled Open Dialogue and Listening – by collecting and collating submissions from individuals and groups engaged in the discussion and dialogue processes. A research task group has been formed to guide the process of the research over three years.
This is heartening because it means the Australian bishops are taking very seriously the views of ordinary Catholics in shaping the direction of the Church in Australia.
Too often we hear the voices of people on the extremities, those who want radical change and those who are fixated with rules and doctrine. For many people, there is much to be loved about the rich traditions of the Church but also a need to reflect on how it can be more welcoming and relevant to their lives and those of the people they love.
But those ‘middle of the road’ Catholics need to make sure they are not just a silent majority; they must make their voices heard. Similarly, we need to gauge the sentiments of non-practising Catholics if we are to continue to flourish as a community of faith.
It’s not easy to raise the topic of faith away from church in everyday settings such as the family dinner table or a weekend barbecue but that’s exactly what needs to happen if the process of dialogue and listening is to be truly representative of the 5.3 million people who call themselves Catholics.
For more information on the Plenary 2020 visit www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au
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