Cooma Looks to the Future

By Matthew Biddle

MORE than 80 members of St Patrick’s Parish Cooma and the surrounding regions gathered for the Parish Assembly on September 13.

Five years after the last Parish Assembly at Cooma, parishioners discussed ways to build and strengthen the parish community in the coming years.

Parish priest Fr Mick MacAndrew said holding an Assembly was an ideal way of allowing parishioners to share their thoughts on what the parish is doing well and what it can do better.

“At my first parish pastoral council meeting in February I asked the councillors to tell me the best things about the parish and then their concerns for the parish,” he said.

“This initiated such good conversations that over the following couple of meetings we decided to let all the parishioners have their say, both in the form of a survey as well as an Assembly.”

The Parish Assembly kicked off with a presentation by Archdiocesan parish pastoral support coordinator Sharon Brewer, who addressed the question ‘What is Pope Francis Asking of our Parish?’

“The Pope has been prolific in his writings, his words and indeed by his actions in showing us what it is to be a Catholic in this time and in this place,” Mrs Brewer said.

The recent Papal documents, Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si, and Misericordiae Vultus can “richly animate what you as a parish community choose to do”, she added.

Mrs Brewer then looked at some of the Pope’s messages regarding five specific areas – the liturgy, community, outreach activities, youth and young adults, and education and spirituality.

“We are called to take the fragrance of Christ’s presence to those in the pews, to the families who present their children for the Sacraments, to the people in Cooma who are searching for something… and to our own loved ones,” she concluded.

“If you can be islands of mercy in this parish and in this wider community of Cooma then I believe that Pope Francis would indeed say to you that you have taken up the challenge.”

Fr Mick presented a collation of statistics gathered from a recent survey of Mass-goers in the region, which he said provided some important insights into the concerns of individuals.

“Our parish is definitely a friendly place,” he said, referring to the 65 per cent of survey respondents who described the parish as a “place where everyone would feel welcome”.

“These statistics affirm you all for all the things that you have been doing and are doing in our parish community over many years.”

Although he believes the parish is still “dynamic”, Fr Mick said the demographics of Cooma’s Catholics was an important consideration.

“We have got that really big issue of not enough young people coming into our church, but we still have them in the parish,” he said. “And we do have a large number of aged parishioners.”

In the survey, 131 out of 174 respondents cited the lack of young people who are active in the parish as one of their concerns. A further 115 said the rapid ageing of the parish was also problematic.

But Fr Mick said the majority of parishioners were hopeful and confident about the parish’s future, according to the survey.

“The statistics will give us a lot of study to do, a lot of impetus to carry out new things, but most of all they are affirming us in what we are doing successfully,” he said.

The final session of the Assembly involved parishioners sharing ideas in small groups of ways things could be done differently in the parish in light of the words of Pope Francis.

Fr Mick said the event was a great success and produced several encouraging outcomes.

“I was very happy at how the day ran and by looking and listening to the people, they were happy too,” he said.

Mrs Brewer will now process the discussion responses generated from the Assembly and prepare a report for the parish pastoral council.