In a spirit of joy and gratitude, on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more than 170 consecrated women and men from across the Archdiocese of Melbourne gathered at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Deepdene for their annual Mass of Thanksgiving and Celebration. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli celebrated the Mass on 8 June, with priests from other religious congregations concelebrating.

Members of about 50 religious congregations, both big and small, from across the Archdiocese attended the annual Mass, the first held in person since the COVID pandemic. In welcoming those gathered, Sr Veronica Hoey SGS, Vicar for Consecrated Life in the Archdiocese, spoke to the theme of the Mass—‘Synodal Women and Men, Builders of Hope’—and its link to the recent National Reconciliation Week theme, ‘Now more than ever … we need to work together.’

‘Today, as consecrated women and men, we embrace this legacy of our First Nations peoples,’ she said. ‘We move forward together, as builders of hope and seekers of truth, in solidarity with all First Nations peoples, on the journey towards truth-telling and reconciliation.’

As Sr Veronica said, the annual Mass for Consecrated Women and Men is a chance for religious women and men to gather with each other and the Archbishop in a spirit of friendship and support, and to acknowledge and celebrate the important role they all play in a variety of ministries across the Archdiocese.

The image of an expanding tent that makes room for God’s people is important to know of and experience.

‘It’s an opportunity to recognise the role of religious women and men through their roles of discernment and participation in the Australian Plenary Council and the ongoing synodal journey, those working in Archdiocesan ministries, committees and projects, those in parish leadership and representing the Church in wider community initiatives, volunteering where the need is greatest, and sharing diverse gifts of charism, culture and education, liturgy and theology.’

She also pointed to ‘a rich history of significant ministries of congregations in education, social justice and welfare, healthcare, safeguarding and professional standards.’

The first reading from Isaiah opened with the words, ‘Enlarge the site of your tent’—a theme picked up by Archbishop Comensoli in his homily and that also formed the framework for the synodal journey currently shaping the life of the Catholic Church.

‘It is quite an evocative image—ideas of generosity and hospitality come quickly to mind, as do images of invitation and welcome,’ said Archbishop Peter. ‘Like the popular hymn of the 1980s “All are welcome in this place”, the image of an expanding tent that makes room for God’s people is important to know of and experience.’

Know that you remain in the light and reflect that light for all of us who seek the light of Christ.

Addressing those gathered, he said, ‘You women and men who walk a religious life of consecration to God know well the charismatic dimensions of this tent for God’s household, especially its expansive and outstretching elements. Thank you for what you witness to through the living out of your religious commitments.

‘I readily acknowledge that you do so at a time when the consecrated life to God is, for many of you, lived at a time when the late afternoon sun is shining. Know that you remain in the light and reflect that light for all of us who seek the light of Christ.’

He went on: ‘I want to acknowledge that there are also rays of dawning light among you. The consecrated life continues to find new expressions, which deserve encouragement. Like any new flame, it needs safeguarding and nurturing as it grows into a strong fire. We will always need beacons of flame to guide us on the right pathway to the tent of meeting.’

At the conclusion of the Mass, Sr Julianna Drobik OP, Convenor of Catholic Religious Australia (Victorian Leaders Network), thanked Archbishop Comensoli for his invitation to gather and for his acknowledgement of the enormous contribution of consecrated women and men in the Archdiocese. Thanks were also extended to hosting parish priest Fr Brendan Reed and assistant priest Fr Hoang Dinh, the musicians and choir from Yarra Theological Union and Catholic Theological College, and Ella Redman who served at the Mass.

May the Lord grant us the grace to rediscover hope, to proclaim hope and to build hope.

Sr Veronica encouraged all present to be builders of hope in the synodal spirit. ‘We will welcome any new ways to collaborate and discern together on important matters for the Church of Melbourne. On Wednesday 26 June, the Victorian bishops and a group of congregational leaders will meet for its annual conversation and dinner. This is a sign of our continued desire to collaborate in the synodal spirit. In the words of Pope Francis, “May the Lord grant us the grace to rediscover hope, to proclaim hope and to build hope.”’

Banner image: Archbishop Peter A Comensoli with religious sisters at the Annual Mass of Thanksgiving and Celebration for consecrated women and men.

All photos by John Casamento.