Special Consultation with the Religious of the Diocese
On Saturday 8 September, 2012, we gathered with religious congregations, institutes and communities who are working or living within the Diocese of Parramatta for a specially convened consultation toward our Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
With a diversity of charisms, apostolates and traditions, the participating religious communities were energetic in their engagement of the present and future life of the Diocese. Sr Ailsa MacKinnon, Vicar for Religious, led us in prayer as we spent two hours reflecting on the diocesan priorities that were shared at previous consultations.
An emphasis on the potential of the family as a source and expression of faith was underscored, with a strong emphasis on the need for adult formation for parents and the importance for the Church as a whole to reach out and connect with these families, especially those experiencing difficult times, through visitation and homilies directed at family issues of relevance. It was felt that the sacraments of the Church needed to be communicated holistically, not as isolated events but as invitations and realisations of a relationship that was life-long.
Two groups looked at our response to young people and the challenge of nurturing ongoing connections between students and parishes, and so participation in Church life beyond school age, was named. It was recommended that young people be given good opportunities to express the Gospel in action through works of justice and pastoral care, and it was further suggested that the Diocese and parish youth groups also look to programs within religious orders that are making a real impact on the lives of young people, for instance the Remar program run by the Marist Brothers.
In the area of ethnic diversity, it was affirmed that many parishes and faith communities are good at welcoming migrants into their life. However, it was suggested that the awareness of diverse migrant backgrounds was not strongly integrated into our parish sacramental programs nor was communication always effective and this could stifle mutual understanding and ultimately participation. It was affirmed that the Planning Team has indeed consulted the migrant communities of the Diocese through their relevant chaplains and community leaders, with that conversation continuing in ensuing months. The need to foster the visibility of our ethnic communities in parish life and liturgy was also named as an opportunity that each parish could realise in the coming years.
There was praise for the Institute for Mission by those who explored issues of laity and clergy, with a call to expand such formation services for the development of lay leadership. It was recognised that the many religious of the Diocese share their charisms with school and parish communities as well, supporting and enhancing the experience discipleship in these contexts. There was felt need to balance religious fervour with actions toward peace and justice and formation in the seminary needed to be holistic and ready these young men for collaborative ministry in parishes and beyond. It was recommended that parishes continue to sponsor people to attend courses at the Institute for Mission, that communication between parishes be strengthened to enable the sharing of resources, and that good support be provided for those working at the coalface of the Church in parish ministries.
Last but not least the issue of evangelisation was taken up and the formation of lay leaders was again underlined as critical to an evangelising Church. Those evangelising moments, including the sacraments, that surface in the lives of individuals and families were reinforced as key opportunities for nurturing faith while the need to respond to people in the reality of their life situation was named as a key Gospel imperative, opening the way to faith and participation.
Thank you to all those religious who participated in this consultation, particularly on a busy Saturday with local council elections and community commitments also at play. The religious of the Diocese continue to make an extraordinary contribution to the life of the faith community and the broader community of Western Sydney. In light of this it was an important and an enriching experience to hear their own perspective on the issues and opportunities that lie ahead for us as a Church.
Yours in Christ,