One of the most striking elements of Pope Francis’ papacy to date is the way in which he has drawn attention to both the Church’s identity and mission and shown each to be essential to the other. In his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (‘The Joy of the Gospel’) and in his preaching, interviews and personal witness, Francis has reminded us that the Church’s identity comes about by its focus on something other than itself – its focus on Christ whose body it is and is called to be, and on the world for whom that sacramental body exists as a sign and reality of hope. Christian life and the life of the Church only grow through an expanding engagement with others.
This is why one of the central aims of our new pastoral plan, Faith in Our Future, is to better share our faith. When we proclaim and witness to the fullness of life that God offers in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit we are ‘living church’, being that community of disciples that God calls us to be. Mission gives us our identity as Church. To ‘go forth’, as Pope Francis puts it, reminds us who we are and deepens who we are – a people of faith responding to God’s gift of life and seeking to rouse in others that an awareness and receptivity to that gift offered to all.
Collaboration within our Diocese is just one way that we can share our faith with others. We know that each of our parishes is unique in its gifts and needs. It is this diversity that makes working together a rich opportunity to accomplish missionary goals that we could not achieve on our own. In the Dialogue of Catherine of Siena, God shares that he could have given to each person an abundance to meet all their spiritual and material needs but he gave different gifts to different people so that we would all need one another.
So it is with our parishes. Each community will have its own gifts, ways of prayer, priorities and forms of pastoral outreach but each is also limited by its own experience of faith and practices of mission. We grow by giving to and receiving from one another. We invite parishes, our clergy and lay leaders, to continue to explore options for collaboration in their region.
As a concrete response to this possibility, RCIA leaders of parishes in the Hills Deanery will soon gather to discuss and discern ways in which they can work together to better support candidates and catechumens. Collaboration will also enable these leaders to redirect energy towards other forms of accompaniment, including mystagogia which is a deeper exploration of the Christian mysteries once someone has been initiated into the life of Christ and the Church. The workshop will be led by Fr Paul Roberts, the Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Pastoral Planning who also serves as the Director of the Institute for Mission (IFM).
One of the other significant opportunities for collaboration outlined in our Pastoral Plan is the development of Pastoral Life Centres throughout the Diocese. By nominating an existing parish in every six or seven as a ‘hub’ or centre for pastoral activity, diocesan services and ministries including adult faith formation, CatholicCare services and programs of partner organisations can be offered much closer to our people. The parishes of the Blue Mountains Deanery are currently taking steps to put such a centre in place, most likely based in the parish of St Thomas Aquinas at Springwood. It is wonderful to see new initiatives of evangelisation come to life as part of our diocesan vision.
Apart from the work of supporting parishes, parish pastoral councils, ministry groups and individuals to make the most of Faith in Our Future, our Pastoral Planning Office is also collaborating with Alpha Australia to provide adult formation opportunities in parishes.
We are pleased to announce that later this year our Pastoral Planning Office will host a special workshop for any parishes interested in training lay leaders to run the ‘Alpha in a Catholic Context’ program in their communities. Alpha typically involves seven to ten sessions, with each session including food, a short DVD talk on one aspect of our Christian faith, and ample time for discussion. It is a proven and inexpensive evangelising initiative that has already been run by a number of parishes in our Diocese with great impact. It is particularly helpful for those parishes seeking to invite newcomers of some faith or no faith to ‘come and see’ what the Catholic faith is about, to discuss the person and message of Jesus and also encounter Him in the presence of a supportive and welcoming community of faith. As part of our online community of faith, look out for an invitation to this special event in the near future. Thank you for your prayers and ongoing support.
With every blessing,
Director, Pastoral Planning Office