Earlier this year, at gatherings of clergy and lay leaders from parishes, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli proposed that we "Take the Way of the Gospel" together, renewing the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s focus on mission, and opening ourselves to Pope Francis’ call for ‘a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything’. While this journey is just beginning, more than 1500 people from across our Archdiocese have already begun planning, discussing and discerning together with their communities. Find out more about the journey so far, resources that are available and the next steps.

The journey so far

In April and May this year, with gathered clergy and lay leaders, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli proposed that we ‘Take the Way of the Gospel’ together, renewing the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s focus on mission and opening ourselves to Pope Francis’ call for ‘a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation’ (Evangelii Gaudium, §27).

At Pentecost, the Archbishop’s letter, entitled Take the Way of the Gospel, urged us to begin with prayer, and in June people from more than fifty parishes gathered for online sessions to unpack the Archbishop’s letter and begin to pray for our Archdiocese as we begin this new journey. A number of parishes then used the resources in their own gatherings and prayer.

As the disciples gathered on that first Pentecost, might we now start this journey in prayer—together. Let us open ourselves to Christ Jesus with a new depth of trust and conviction in his guiding hand, so that we may discern our journey with compassionate and humble hearts and come to know the Spirit moving within and amongst us, and so be transformed. (Archbishop Peter A Comensoli)

In August and September, 538 clergy and lay leaders attended online regional meetings to discuss a vision for our parishes that emphasises effectiveness in sharing the Gospel, co-responsible lay leadership, a deepening of faith and a more equitable sharing of resources across parish communities. The aim is for parishes to become more vibrant, vital and viable by structurally reorganising into Mission groupings. Illustrative Mission groupings were proposed and initial parish data were provided so that parishes might begin further discernment in their own communities, overlaying the initial high-level data with their own expert, localised knowledge to help discern how they might work with other parishes in their area.

In September and October, about 420 people attended further follow-up sessions to ask questions, seek further clarification and explore some specially developed parish resources. Feedback and questions from these meetings went to the Archbishop and to the Take the Way of the Gospel planning group to ensure that action is undertaken where required.

Local expression of a global movement of the Church

Responding to the call for a more synodal process in our dioceses and parishes, we explored ‘imaginative contemplation and spiritual conversation’ through a series of online gatherings in September and October. Fr Robin Koning SJ generously helped leaders from more than seventy parishes to learn about and experience this process, which is widely used both nationally and globally. Accompanying resources are available online to help parishes facilitate their own discernment conversations.

While the extended lockdown has meant that much of the process so far has been confined to online gatherings, parishes have widely acknowledged that discernment conversations need to be held in person. For the remainder of 2021, our focus should rightly be on gradually re-emerging into parish life and welcoming our people home to Mass. So, with many parishes deciding to wait until next year to begin their in-person Take the Way of the Gospel listening and discernment sessions, the Archbishop has extended the timeframes for initial parish discernment to the end of 2022, giving communities more time to pray, listen and consult.

Melbourne’s Take the Way of the Gospel journey synchronises with current national and global discernment about the future of the Church. Among the themes explored by both the Plenary Council and the Bishops' 2023 Synod on Synodality, Gospel mission is emerging as a key focus. So rather than seeing these as three different processes, ‘Take the Way of the Gospel’ might more usefully be seen as the local expression of a broader global movement of the Church to a more missionary footing.

Looking forward to 2022

In the first half of 2022, parishes are encouraged to plan Take the Way of the Gospel consultation and discernment sessions, using the resources provided. Parishes are encouraged to offer smaller gatherings of up to forty people, targeting specific parts of the community—young families, ethnic groups, a particular Mass centre etc.—to ensure that everyone has a voice and feels heard. The information gathered at these meetings—about the community’s values, strengths, challenges and hopes—will be vital for the next step of the process. Regional animation consultants from Proclaim: The Office for Mission Renewal can be called on to assist with this if required.

Already, many hundreds of leaders—both clergy and lay—from across our Archdiocese have gathered to pray, dream and heed Pope Francis’ call to consider a more ‘missionary option’ for our Church in Melbourne. May 2022 herald a new era for our Archdiocese, where the Holy Spirit leads us towards mission and cooperation, and each community prayerfully discerns its particular call to bring Jesus Christ to the families, young and spiritually impoverished in their neighbourhood.