2. Making the Church the Home and the School of Communion
Having established that the journey to the Plenary Council of 2020/2021 is marked by a pilgrimage of conversion, we need to then remind ourselves that we do this as Catholics.
St John Paul II, in one of his wonderful documents at the turn of our new millennium, reflected that the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning is precisely this: “to make the Church the home and the school of communion.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001, n.43)
Reflecting on this key term of promoting a spirituality of communion, Pope Francis comments:
“The pastoral journey of the local community has as an essential reference point the pastoral plan of the diocese, which is to be placed before the programmes of the associations, movements and any particular group. This pastoral unity, of everyone around the bishop, will create unity in the Church.”
Catholics have a particular theological understanding of this term “pastoral plan”.
For example, the documents of the Vatican II Council make it quite clear that our Church has both a hierarchical and a collegial structure. It is this living experience of communion – of all of the baptised working in the service of the Kingdom of God among us – that is essential.
Following from this is the understanding that we all have equal dignity but we serve in different tasks. The Lay Faithful direct the entire world towards the Kingdom of God. The Clergy specifically serve in the governance, teaching and sanctification of the Church. Even in this they are assisted by the Lay Faithful. The Bishops, as successors of the Apostles, serve under the leadership of the Pope, and become signs of unity and communion of their entire diocese. We are all part of this school of communion.
This is different from viewing the Church purely from the prism of a parliamentary democracy. The principle in a democracy rests on the understanding that all power comes from the people. In the Church, however, all power comes from Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit to serve.
There are many wonderful examples in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn over the years of the practical living out of this ecclesial vision of communion and service, especially in the areas of education, health and social justice.
For example, there have been several attempts in the Archdiocese to articulate a pastoral plan for herself. In more recent years, diocesan-wide and regional deanery assemblies have moved towards a vision of encouraging our people in the crucial areas of married and family life. So many of our diocesan agencies give incredible service in this area. This pastoral plan needs further development.
Diocesan Pastoral Councils have also been created to flesh out pastoral plans over the years. These have lapsed over the years. They need to be re-freshed in a manner that involves as many as possible. Similar observations could be said too about a possible new Diocesan Commission or equivalent for women.
In this Year of Youth, our common vision too must be focussed on the place of youth in the Archdiocese. Surprising to some, this is a very dynamic pastoral area in the Archdiocese at present. Let us encourage it together.
These and other possible examples, especially responding to the incredible thirst for prayer among so many, the pastoral care and dynamic contribution of our migrants and refugees, care for the poor and marginalised, and the welcome of new Catholics via the RCIA, ought be areas of our communion in listening and practical charity to ensure that all find a “home” in our Archdiocese.
Our pilgrimage to the national Plenary Assembly in 2020/21 offers us increased Gospel urgency to focus on these vital pastoral areas.
Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn
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