On Saturday 18 November, the final day of the 2023 Proclaim Gathering provided an opportunity for Catholics from across the Archdiocese to be inspired and formed for the task of sharing the Good News.

Over the three days of the gathering—structured around the themes of ‘Encounter, Engage, Embark’—hundreds of people from parishes, schools and other communities came to hear from an exciting range of keynote speakers, workshop presenters and musicians, to pray together and to explore how the Gospel can come alive in our communities.

The final day of the gathering again drew more than 100 participants to the Catholic Leadership Centre, where they were invited into a time of prayer and worship, with music led by Joe Melhem and Kyle Correya.

The first keynote speaker of the day was Karen Doyle, a professionally trained Catholic coach, entrepreneur, businesswoman, speaker and author. Founder of the Genius Project, an initiative for Catholic women, and co-founder, with her husband Jonathan, of Choisez Media, Doyle spoke on the message that each of us is born ‘for such a time as this’.

She began by pointing out that people of faith are not immune to suffering and adversity. Life, she said, is ‘a huge roller coaster’, but it’s also ‘a beautiful journey of growing in trust and dependence on God’.

God uses everything in our stories for his glory, she said, wasting nothing. ‘Every tear that you may have cried, every silent heartache that you’ve carried, God has the capacity to use that … He will give you everything that you need to fulfill your mission and purpose, but he will also give you all that you need to navigate the circumstances of adversity in your own life … He is a God of restoration.’

‘Sometimes we get lost in the details of our own story,’ she said. ‘But our story takes place within a bigger story, and that is his story, the story of redemption, the story of the Gospel.’

Every tear that you may have cried, every silent heartache that you’ve carried, God has the capacity to use that.

Anchoring her message in the story of Esther—a young Jewish woman who was called to speak up for her people, at great personal risk, when they were threatened with persecution and death—Doyle drew out three lessons for her audience.

The first lesson, she said, was that Esther ‘didn’t run from adversity’ but ‘remained present to it’—something we are not always good at in our culture. ‘God’s grace is in the present moment … We have to learn the grace and the art of being present.’ Esther sent a message to her people to pray and fast for three days, committing to doing the same. ‘She created space to hear from God to see what he was doing in that circumstance.’

In times of trouble, rather than becoming preoccupied with why God allows adversity, which can often lead us to doubt God’s goodness, Doyle suggested that it is better to focus, like Esther, on how questions.

‘This side of eternity, we will never know why some things happen,’ she said. ‘We will never know why we are asked to carry certain crosses, but we have to always trust in [God’s] goodness and his faithfulness.’ In her experience, she said, the people who are able to ‘encounter extreme suffering and trauma and come through that as a witness and an incredible light to others’ are those who ask, ‘How am I being called to grow? How is God going to reveal himself to me?’

‘That question of how is a question of hope,’ she said. Rather than asking ‘Why?’, Esther asked, ‘How is God going to work in this situation?’

The third lesson, Doyle said, is that Esther ‘received a mission in adversity’. If you decide to ‘check out when life gets too hard’, she said, ‘you miss out, and not only do you miss out, but other people miss out as well … Every single one of you has a mission, has something to bring.’

In the gospels, she noted, there is often a pattern to Jesus’ interactions with people. ‘He encounters them, they are transformed by him, and then they are sent, they are given a mission,’ she said, pointing out that God will often use adversity to reveal to us our ‘unique and unrepeatable mission’.

In the midst of Esther’s turmoil, as she was fasting and praying and seeking God’s will, her uncle said to her, ‘Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.’ And Esther responded to that suggestion with boldness and courage, ultimately saving her people from great suffering. ‘Imagine if she allowed fear to contain her,’ Doyle said.

‘We are living in a moment in history where we need people who are going to be bold witnesses to Christ and to hope. My question for you today is: Will you be one of those people? Will you be an Esther? Will you sit with the Lord? Will you look back on your life and think, what are the lessons that can support me through those experiences? How am I being called into a holy dependence on him? And then where is he sending me?’

We are living in a moment in history where we need people who are going to be bold witnesses to Christ and to hope. My question for you today is: Will you be one of those people?

The morning concluded with two opportunities for participants to choose from workshops led by Ron Huntley, Karen Doyle, St Francis of Assisi Parish Mill Park and Royden D’Souza, Jacqui Giuliano, or Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal.

After lunch and another time of prayer and worship, the final speaker for the day was Ron Huntley, giving his second keynote address of the gathering. Using lively stories from his own broad experience working with parishes, he explored the movement ‘from chaos to clarity’, shedding light on how parishes can dream and cast a compelling vision.

The journey from a lacklustre ‘here’ to a more fruitful ‘there’ will often require us to feel uncomfortable, he said. This discomfort, while ‘not very fun’, provides the motivation for change and renewal. It’s only by focusing on why we are doing something—a process that might require uncomfortable honesty about our shortcomings—that we can develop ‘the compelling vision’ that will draw people to our communities and inspire them to engage passionately in our mission.

‘We’re in the evolution business, allowing the Holy Spirit, God, to evolve me into the leader the Church needs me to be, so that we can get really good results. And so [we need to ask]: What’s the “here”? What’s the “there”? And what’s your “why”?’

We’re in the evolution business, allowing the Holy Spirit to evolve me into the leader the Church needs me to be.

After outlining a couple of tools that parishes can use to guide them through the process of moving from ‘here’ to ‘there’, Huntley concluded by sharing the story of Rocco, an older man who had stayed away from Mass for 60 years but was recently drawn back to the Church when he had an experience of the Holy Spirit in a Melbourne parish. ‘His life is completely changed, and he is so excited. He’s going to church every day. On Sundays, he goes twice!

‘When we do what God’s calling us to do,’ Huntley said, ‘when we dare to do it well, when we stop judging each other and start getting through it, when we work together and get from “here” to “there” with a strong “why”, we can create all kinds of Roccos, because ... I’m telling you, the Melbourne church needs more Roccos.’

The gathering had kicked off on Thursday evening as more than 240 people gathered at St John the Evangelist Church in East Melbourne for eucharistic adoration and worship, with music led by popular Catholic artists Fr Rob Galea and Alyssa Agius, followed by dinner and a keynote address by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, who delved into Scripture to explore the three steps of discipleship in Christ: to invite, to welcome and to send.

The next day, more than 100 people came together for a full-day program at the Catholic Leadership Centre, where they were led in prayer and worship with music from Gen Bryant, participated in a range of workshops and heard from three dynamic keynote speakers: Dr Nigel Zimmermann from Melbourne Archdiocese Catholic Schools (MACS) on how people of faith can ‘learn to fly’ by providing authentic, meaningful witness in their communities and families; Kym Keady, Director of Ignite Youth and founder of Real Talk Australia, on the wonder and awe that we experience in the Holy Spirit; and Ron Huntley on leadership and evangelisation.

Banner image: Karen Doyle presents a keynote address on Day 3 of the 2023 Proclaim Gathering.