Clergy from across the Archdiocese met on Wednesday 30 March for an opportunity to pray and reflect on the Archdiocese’s initiative of missionary renewal, Take the Way of the Gospel, and how to approach the realities of a post-COVID world and church. It was the first in-person seminar held for clergy in 2022, after Victoria’s tumultuous year of COVID lockdowns and restrictions.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli opened the gathering, thanking the priests for their presence and acknowledging the various challenges and opportunities facing their communities as they continue to open up and reorient themselves to the mission in a post-COVID time. ‘It’s good to have a large portion of our clergy come together in prayer, formation and fellowship,’ said the Archbishop.

Several topics were discussed at the gathering, from the pastoral to the practical, but a key focus of the session was the Take the Way of the Gospel intiative for missionary renewal in the Archdiocese.

Sharing the Gospel more effectively

In early 2021, Archbishop Comensoli invited parishes to discern the formation of “parish missions”, where a mission represents a family of communities, with commonalities in history, demographics, geography, and with a collaborative focus on evangelisation, worship, formation and outreach.

The Archbishop acknowledged that it was not something new but rather a response to the ever-increasing sense of urgency expressed by clergy and people ‘to attend to the manner in which the local communities of our Archdiocese are arranged and function’.

’Undeniably, the landscape of Melbourne—a city of cities—has changed dramatically since the time of [Melbourne’s first bishop] Archbishop Goold. What has not changed is the desire of God’s people to find new and fresh ways of proclaiming the Gospel into our local communities,’ the Archbishop said at the time.

It’s time to recalibrate

Speaking to clergy on Wednesday, Fr Joe Caddy AM, Vicar General of the Archdiocese, said that it was now time to recalibrate after the disruption of COVID.

‘Over the last 12 months we’ve welcomed the questions that have come through around Take the Way of the Gospel, particularly for the request for a more formal consultation with clergy and laity to take place,’ said Fr Caddy.

He explained that a Project Stakeholder Advisory Group would soon be formed, which will include representation from members of the clergy, laity, leaders from lay ecclesial/migrant communities as well as senior leadership from the Archdiocese. The group’s role will be to provide advice and suggestions on the requirements of key stakeholders (parishes, clergy, lay leaders, parish staff) as the Take the Way of the Gospel project progresses.

Fr Caddy also introduced Catherine Garner, who was recently appointed to Take the Way of the Gospel as Program Director – Parish Transformation. Catherine has spent many years in the healthcare sector and was Group Director – Mission and Outreach at Cabrini Health.

In her new role, Catherine will be working directly with parishes and Archdiocesan offices to help revitalise local parish structures for a greater sense of mission and zeal. She shared that she has already begun visiting parishes and has heard varying responses to Take the Way of the Gospel.

‘Some of you are wondering where you’re going to find the energy to undertake Take the Way of the Gospel,‘ she said. ‘Some of you are already thinking about how you can do Take the Way of the Gospel and already started the work of revitalising and re-engaging the mission with your people. And some of you have even said that you just don’t know how to expand the walls to fit all the people in your church!

Melbourne is a mosaic of experiences; there isn’t just one experience out there. My role is to connect the vision of what’s been presented to us with the reality of what’s happening on the ground. It’s not going to be easy and we’re bound to make mistakes,‘ she said.

‘We’ll need to be open, honest and listen to each other. And leave room for the Holy Spirit.‘

It has to start with prayerful listening

Each parish will approach Take the Way of the Gospel differently, Fr Caddy acknowledged, saying that not all parishes would be able to move at the same pace. ‘That’s why the Archbishop toward the end of last year encouraged us to continue the process of prayer and discernment throughout 2022,’ he said.

Fr Caddy also spoke of the need for patience, prayer and collaboration as missionary renewal continued to take shape around the Archdiocese. ‘We’d have our heads in the sand if we said there isn’t going to be grief in this. We’re not the church we were anymore and there’s undoubtedly grief in that. We have to acknowledge this,’ he said.

‘There’s always a reason not to do it,’ Fr Caddy said, reflecting on the inevitable pain that comes with change. ‘But [change] is going to happen to us if we don’t do anything.’

Work is already underway to provide both clergy and the laity with more formal training opportunities in the areas of leadership, pastoral care and administration. Fr Caddy also suggested that a deeper understanding of ecclesiology would be required.

Pope Francis talks about our role in inviting people into an encounter with Jesus, and with others ... We are community-builders. This whole thing is about vibrancy and bringing people together,’ he said.

‘Clergy and laypeople need to discern what this will look like together,’ said Fr Caddy. ‘But it has to start with prayerful listening to each other. It has to be synodal.’

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