From Consultation to the Formation of a Diocesan Pastoral Plan
The past eight months have been extraordinary. As Fr Paul and I have facilitated consultations throughout the Diocese, with the assistance of clergy and lay leaders, we have been delighted to meet a diversity of people and receive a variety of responses to the five pastoral priorities for the Diocese. The live consultation sessions brought together parishes which were in some cases quite distinct in demographics, with their own histories, strengths and pastoral concerns. However, rather than inhibiting conversation these differences surfaced a richness of experience, a catholicity of vision and united hope that more, and not less, is possible in the years ahead.
We extend our sincere appreciation to the 2000 people who participated in the parish consultations over the past eight months, from February to mid-September. The process took in the 49 parishes of our Diocese and a handful of specially convened consultations, including with religious who are working or living within the Diocese as well as past and present students of the Institute for Mission. As emphasised throughout the process, as Church we depend on each other for the best view of things. The insights, faith and experiences of individuals, families, religious and clergy all contribute to the integrity and potential of the whole.
As a facilitator, it has been a privileged role with the heights and valleys of any work that involves communities seeking to realise a common mission, an evangelising mission that cannot be exhausted by any single approach and demands the goodwill and collaboration of each and every one rather than a few. There can be a certain naivety about how we grow together in identity, in spirit and structure. It is never simple. Only babies grow quickly. Adults take time to shape and articulate a vision together, to discern our strengths and even admit our limitations, to acknowledge shared responsibilities, and in some cases set aside personal preferences for the sake of a more expansive mission. This process of changing and moving together, which is at the heart of the Gospel call to both unity and conversion, is never easy. However, neither is it impossible for people who live by ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ (Heb. 11:1), that is, who are genuine people of faith.
So where to from here? It is important to underline that while the formal consultation phase has come to a close, we will endeavour to keep communication open and to provide good information through the Catholic Outlook as well as our website and blogs (www.faithinourfuture.org.au). By these efforts, we seek to honour the time, energy and involvement of hundreds who have participated in the process so far and engage many others that we hope will find in the forthcoming Pastoral Plan something which speaks to their own aspirations for their families and faith and evoke a renewed sense of belonging to a growing and developing Church.
The pressing work is to review the consultation feedback as a whole, particularly from our parish and online participants, and clearly identify the major concerns and opportunities of that feedback. Of course, we do not start from naught and will integrate the latest feedback into the emerging threads already pinpointed in our May and September interim reports (you can read these summary documents anew at our website).
Once the central themes and ideas are verified, more intense engagement and collaboration with our clergy and chaplains, diocesan agencies (e.g. CatholicCare, Catholic Education Office, Institute for Mission) and ministries will commence with the goal of shaping strategies and specific actions that will point us toward a stronger and more vital pastoral life. We anticipate there will be some new initiatives as well as the strengthening and renewal of existing ministries. What is most important, however, is your involvement. Without the enthusiasm, living discipleship and dedication of all the people of Parramatta, even the best structures cannot bring about genuine renewal.
So there is much detailed work to be done. To ensure the plan is faithful to the aspirations and needs identified around the five pastoral priorities of the Diocese, to integrate our best hopes and present realities, and to timetable initiatives sensibly over the five year term of the plan will be areas of focus. We will also need to examine important issues of structure and resources, keeping in mind the changing demographics, trends and populations across our region.
We envisage that the development of these recommendations, which will require canonical and financial review before episcopal approval, will take six months or more. We will keep in touch with news and updates about our progress. Our intent is to launch the plan in the second half of 2013.
Finally, we ask you to keep praying for this important work. As Bishop Anthony asked in our September interim report, pray for wisdom that ‘we are really contemplating the face of Christ, putting out into the deep with Him, and taking the directions He wants for His Church here in Parramatta.’
Yours in Christ,
Pastoral Planning Officer
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