On Friday 8 October, livestreaming resumed for the First Assembly of the 2021 Plenary Council of Australia. Thursday was a special day set aside to consider two of the most important questions on the agenda. Namely, how might we heal of wounds of abuse in the Church; and how might we meet the needs of those at the peripheries of society? Because of this, there was no livestreaming Thursday 7 October.

In case you weren’t tuned in today, here are a few things you missed.

Looking towards the wrap-up

Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe SDB gave a short address in his position as President of the Plenary Council. He wanted to give some indications about the way forward after today’s session and looking beyond to what comes next. He wanted to address the question of how the work of the small groups will be brought to a conclusion.

Each day the groups have been presenting “progress reports” to the Assembly which has been contributing to the discernment process. This has been leading to the emergence of key ideas and themes. By the end of Saturday, Costelloe said, each group should be able to offer observations and proposals that have arisen from these ‘spiritual conversations’. Facilitators are there to assist each group in putting together these proposals. From there, the Steering Committee, in consultation with the Drafting Committee and others, will put together propositions that will become the basis for the activities of the Second Assembly in July 2022.

Progress reports continue to stimulate

The groups continued to report back to the Assembly from their conversations that occurred on Wednesday 6 October.

Stephanie Sullivan, reporting on behalf of the group considering how we might become a more contemplative people, spoke of ‘the importance of desire, seeking to make God an intimate part of our lives, and the attractiveness of that desire.’

The quality of liturgical celebrations was also spoken about. It was said that:

‘Liturgy needs to capture every aspect of our being, body, soul, spirit, and that it needs to be beautiful and lead us to the beauty of God. For us, prayer is God’s work.’

Loretta McKeering, representing the group discussing the formation of leaders for mission, said, ‘We once again identified prayer as being key for formation. It is essential in discipleship and leadership formation. But it must be modelled.’

‘Parents are the first formators of their children . . . We believe we need to wrestle with the very important question of how to utilise the family as the powerful force that it is in the formation of our leaders.’

Professor Renee Kohler-Ryan, on the subject of governance and co-responsibility between lay and ordained, provided some honest insights into the nature of their discussions. She said, ‘Some members expressed a sense of there being no need to rush, while others felt impatience, and at the same time like something was about to emerge and needed to do so soon. We felt simultaneously like we were walking through mud and in labour.’

‘Focus on the kingdom of God and what it means to proclaim the Gospel came into our sights as we continued discussion ... The fact that good governance for the purpose of proclamation of the Gospel may be a matter of culture rather than simply structure and membership was considered.’

She said that they ‘concluded with the reflection that in the kingdom of God, we strive for the dignity of all people.’

Looking ahead

There continues to be a strong sense that the work of the Council has only just begun. Some of the most important work lies ahead to be discussed at the Second Assembly in 2022. Through this process, there has been emphasis on taking things slowly, doing it prayerfully and making sure the process of developing proposals does not run ahead of the actual process of discernment. There is a long view that needs to be had of this Council as the Church patiently and prayerfully considers its future, its strategies, and its ongoing place in Australia.