3. Mission of Dialogue and Co-responsibility


Co-responsibility” was a key word that the Fathers of the Vatican II Council (1962-1965) used immediately on returning to their dioceses in 1965. It seemed to them a pastoral key to unlock all that had been discussed and promulgated over the years of intense listening to the Holy Spirit. It is a key term for us all as we make the journey to the Plenary Council.

The understanding of co-responsibility is that every baptised Catholic is called to take up their identity as “missionary disciples”, as Pope Francis would describe it. All have a missionary role to live out in some way and at some level. We exercise this role in communion with the whole Church. It means taking seriously the Sacrament of Baptism as the gateway into the missionary life of the Church in the modern world.

Even today the words “missionary” and “evangelisation” are so misunderstood by many Australian Catholics. For many it implies some form of proselytism – a type of forcing people to convert into the Catholic Church. In fact, Catholic teaching for several generations now has insisted that true missionary activity is the opposite of such an aggressive pastoral strategy. Several more recent Popes have used a lovely expression: that Catholics are to “propose” and never “impose” the Faith on others.


A double mission is involved here.

First, we are to propose Jesus to the world and preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God. This can be done verbally when appropriate and asked for. Moreso, it can be a non-verbal proclamation. As St Francis of Assisi is reported to have said: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Secondly, there is a social mission involved here. Pope Francis stresses this aspect so much. He talks of the mission to the “peripheries” and famously uses the image of the Church as “a field hospital in the battle field of life.”

It is a pastoral mission of co-responsibility to reach out the healing and helping arm of us all to the marginalised. It is the poor Jesus who we serve in the poor.

We must never underestimate the incredible pastoral efforts of generations of devoted Catholics in Australia in the areas, for example, of education, health and social services. Here the social mission of the Church continues to shine brightly. It is hard to imagine the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn without their heroic efforts in living out their Baptisms in past and present times. What can be said of our future social mission in Australia and in our Archdiocese?


Catholics choose the path of dialogue in living out their missionary vocations. Often applied to the way we relate to other religions, but illuminating for all types of evangelisation, dialogue is based on three fundamental and simple foundations.

First, there is the duty to respect our identity and the identity of the other. When we dialogue with others there is mutual respect. There is no future in demanding that others respect me without a mutual willingness to respect the sincere opinions of others. This requires a deep listening to each other and not simply a hearing of the other.

Secondly, there must be the courage to accept differences. Just because someone has a different opinion to me does not mean they are to be treated as enemies. In the Australian context of rampant ideological clashes in all public debates, this is sadly eclipsed in vigorous discussion. May this never be the case in our diocesan and national discussions leading towards the Plenary Council.

Thirdly, sincere intentions are needed so that we do not harbour specific end goals to our discussions before they even start. No doubt from the Plenary Council and our own local discussions specific proposals will emerge for pastoral action. Yet the journey to these pastoral plans and our accompanying each other is just as important as any arising definite plans themselves. They must be the fruit of our deep listening in humility to each other and not “the hidden agenda” of particular groups. This latter approach is manipulative and unworthy of missionary disciples. We are to trust that co-responsibility will ultimately give rise to the grace of the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit needed for the pastoral way forward.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn

<< Back to Plenary Council Canberra Main Page>>Next: #4 On the Journey to the Plenary Council 2020/21