Pope Francis gave his approval for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia in March 2018, paving the way for a national period of consultation and prayer considering the question ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?’.
The last time the Catholic Church in Australia held a Plenary Council was in 1937. So it has been more than 80 years since we gathered all of the Church together and much has changed.
The first phase of three phases of the Fifth Plenary Council – preparation – ended up spanning three-and-a-half years because of COVID, giving way to the second phase of celebration.
The first assembly of the Plenary Council, originally planned to be held in Adelaide in October 2020, was postponed by 12 months due to the original COVID travel and gathering restrictions in March that year.
The assembly was eventually held in a multi-modal format last October, with more than 275 members taking part online, but some able to gather in small groups locally, as happened for Adelaide-based members.
The outcomes or ‘fruits’ of that first assembly were published in December 2021, and additional work has taken place to refine the members’ contributions to prepare the agenda and specific proposals for the second assembly.
Four themes have emerged from the years of listening, dialogue, discernment, prayer and reflection. They are:
- A deeper communion enriched by diversity;
- Ecclesial leadership and governance – growing as disciples and servants of the Gospel;
- To witness to faith, hope and love as missionary disciples in the world;
- To proclaim God’s new creation as people of prayer, healing and hope.
The Council’s members and the wider Catholic community will continue to walk together in the lead up to the second assembly being held from July 4 to 9.
Prayer has been a driving force behind our four-year journey, and we ask people across the country to keep praying for this Council process, for the members who have an important task and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
A series of proposals will be considered at the second assembly and voted on by the members. Proposals that receive the necessary support will be sent to the Vatican for approval.
Those that are approved will become part of the local law of the Church.
That will see the start of the third and final phase for the Council: implementation.
Then, the dioceses, parishes and Catholic communities will be entrusted with carrying forward this years-long journey and renewing the Church in Australia in the person of Jesus Christ.
Grounded in Scripture and Catholic tradition and infused with the life of the people of God in this country, we will be well placed to carry on the work of Jesus in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Shane Mackinlay is vice president of the Plenary Council and Bishop of Sandhurst. For more information visit www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au
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