The Discussion Panel consisted of:
Fr David Ranson, Parish Priest of Wahroonga and Vicar General of Broken Bay diocese (DR)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (DW)
Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster (NH)
Dr Susan Timoney, Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington (ST)
Jude Henessey, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Wollongong (JH)
Sophy Morley, Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator and the Coordinator for Liturgy in the Diocese of Sale (SM)
Professor Brother David Hall, dean of the La Salle Academy at Australian Catholic University (ACU) for Faith Formation and Religious Education (Br D)
(As usual, expect that these notes will be rough, but will give you the gist of what was discussed.)
Fr David Ranson (DR) facilitated the discussion panel.
DR: Thank you for all the questions that have been submitted. We will focus on the themes that were found in those questions. The American priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley, wrote that ‘the Catholic parish is one of the most ingenious communities that human skill has ever created. Its overlapping networks of religious, educational, familial, social and political relationships has created … “social capital"’. No other community can accompany the human journey in such an effective and sustained way. Would you agree that our definition of parish is changing? It still has a mostly geographical definition, but increasingly membership is more by affiliation.
ST: Urban mobility is both an opportunity and a challenge. Diversity of experience in a parish is a sign of vitality. We see parish as our spiritual home, and want the newcomers to be able to claim it as home too. If the community is changing rapidly, then more flexibility is needed. We need to both extend welcome, and to honour the history of our parish.
DR: How do we keep cohesion between the newcomers and the old timers? The latter feel displaced and the former bring new energy, but how do we maintain the identity of the parish?
DW: By getting them to realise they share the same values. We pass them on through community life and the welcoming nature of our communities. Pope Francis tells us that parish is supposed to be flexible, and to be able to grow and develop. I read Andrew Greeley's 'The Church in the Suburbs' during my college days.
DR: Perhaps the opposite situation is faced by those in stable rural communities, whose challenge is how to keep the message fresh.
SM: We do have large parishes in country Victoria, but they are remote. I travel to each parish. They are mainly 'anglo' parishes. There is an asylum seekers support group liaising with Melbourne. Through the Marist Fathers there is some solidarity with the East Timorese. Rural parishes have strong bonds of community. When other races and religions come into a small community, most people have no idea what to do with them. But this is only due to ignorance. With the Sudanese the breakthrough came through song and story, they love to sing and they love to hear and share stories. Once you get the connection, it all works.
NH. With 214 parishes in the Diocese there is lots of mobility. So we have to be more strategic. We have to ask ourselves, 'How are we meeting the needs of all groups in the parish?' With constant demographic change in each 12 month period, we need to take the pulse systematically. Are there large groups that don't come to certain activities, or some who come to some activities and never to other ones?
DR: Let's talk about parish collaboration.
JH: Wollongong diocese resides along a coastal strip with parishes close together. We are looking at clustering. But how to form the smaller communities into one community is a big challenge. We've visited the megachurches in the USA, and they look at areas on maps that are within a 30 minute driving circle firstly to pick locations without competition and secondly to make small groups viable.
Br D: The future requires collaboration, but brutal realities have to be faced. Who will get the youth? Who will get the young professionals, and by extension, the money? To make it work requires lots of respectful dialogue. It is a good concept, but less attractive in its reality.
DR: What does the sociological reality of communion look like in a parish?
DW: Communion is a spiritual reality, a grace of God poured out on us. Baptism is the foundation of communion, but it has to be manifested and expressed. What do our congregations do when they gather geographically or ethnically? They do what the first parish did, as described in the Acts of the Apostles: Acts 2:42: the disciples anointed by the Holy Spirit prayed, listened to the teaching of the Apostles, grew in the bonds of communion, and celebrated the Eucharist. How does this communion happen? Through solidarity, working together and collaboration. It takes practical day in day out effort. Our challenge is to find ways to manifest the presence of the Holy Spirit together so that everyone feels a part of it and is invited into it. At the same time we recognise that members don't have to be 'in everything'.
DR: St John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte spoke about the need to promote a spirituality of communion and said that our external structures of communion rely on this inner reality.
NH: We are here because Pope Francis has a dream for a missionary option. He tells us in Evangelii Gaudium that if we respond to the call to evangelise that we will really experience joy. But we need to include the most marginalised, because joy is also found with the poor. Our structures must serve communion, and then that communion fuels mission. Vision without strategy is hallucination. Goals without means for achieving those goals – are illusory. We must organise our parishes as teams. Pastors need to acknowledge that they can't do all this alone. Laity acknowledges that we can't possibly do this without our pastor. What can you do with a reluctant pastor? Persevere with the Evangelii Gaudium vision, and choose 2 people to go and say to Father, 'We cannot do this without you'.
DR: We live in an age of migration, and many of our priests are from cultures alien to our own. This has the potential for richness, but also the potential for great difficulty. How should we deal with the difference in culture between the pastor and his community? There have been as many responses to this situation as there are communities, and we acknowledge that religious orders are helping a lot. A key factor is the quality of the induction of our foreign priests. It has to go much deeper than a 2 day course, and we need to allow more time for this induction process to take place.
ST: There are 21 language Masses each Sunday in Washington DC. We share a lot of catholicity and we all share Marian devotion. The challenge is how to weave devotions and practices together. A pastor is ineffective without the collaboration of parishioners.
JH: Wollongong has lots of cultural groups and chaplains. They are part of the richness of the body of Christ.
SM: This is a challenging experience for our parish communities, but we find that once the pastor begins to share his background stories then things soften. We held a day for clergy. Around 1/3 of them were from overseas. So we asked this 1/3 to tell the others what it was like to be a priest in this diocese. That broke down a lot of barriers. We have developed close links with a Nigerian diocese. Fear is normally our first response. We have to get out of our comfort zone and appreciate that these priests from overseas are on fire with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
DW: As integration begins to happen, it becomes easier. We need the virtue of patience. We have so much migration and so much merging going on between cultural experiences. The perfect vision should not become the enemy of the good reality. Small steps will get us there.
DR: We are called to be centres of inclusion. I've heard of a Tuscan village where the altar servers have mental disabilities. They stand at the Eucharistic prayer and have their elbows on the altar. How can we become more inclusive?
Br D: Inclusivity is a wonderful concept, which is now politically correct. It is good up to the point that it is cute, fun and OK, but when it brings confrontations…? Zacchaeus wanted in, and Jesus was seeking to find the lost. Are we courageous enough to bring them in? 'I'm going to have dinner tonight at his place.' I have to be open to being changed by those included. We must dialogue, and be open to be changed by the other. We need to be very honest with each other. The cycle of partial inclusion, followed by a road block (obstacle to further inclusion) and an 'I'm out of here' has to end. However there will always be limits to our ability to be inclusive – because of what we stand for, and we need to be absolutely honest about those limits with those on the way in.
DR: How do we advocate for the poor? What is the prophetic role of the local parish?
SM: Advocacy requires walking with people and making ourselves vulnerable. They might have personal issues that are threatening to us. If we look at the Emmaus story we see that Jesus didn't jump in, but that He first asked questions and let them talk. It is necessary for us to meet people where they are at and find out their passions. We are inspired by places like Paris and parishes that don't lock their doors, but leave them open so that the beautiful artworks can touch the soul. In our parish there were migrants who wanted to work hard, so we developed an unemployment help service – a project which is still going on. Other groups came together to help with finance and budgeting. These works did draw people in gradually.
DR: Whom is the Jesus you love and worship? In Benedict XVI's essays on Christology we see Jesus first at prayer. If the world looks at us at prayer, who does it see?
DW: We hope they see what we claim to be: the Body of Christ worshipping the Father thanking for the Spirit and rendering thanks that we are One in that Body. Coming to Mass expresses what we already are through Baptism, and is always an expression of the faith we profess in the Creed.
Bishop Comensoli: We thank our guests and our panel for what they have shared with us. Our thanks goes too to all of the workshop presenters and booth holders. Thanks to the many volunteers present here at the conference and to the other volunteers who worked in preparation for it. This huge team have been evangelising us through service. Thanks too for the representatives from the dioceses of Ballarat and Maitland Newcastle who have been with us. You have been through much pain, and you are hope and encouragement to us. My personal thanks to Daniel Ang and Natalie from our diocesan Office for Evangelisation. Bishops with ideas are dangerous and you made those ideas reality. I acknowledge the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation and thank them for all being here. We are committed to Proclaim 2018, but whether it takes place on the east coast or on the west coast is still to be decided.
David Patterson expressed thanks to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the sponsors, Chatswood parish, exhibitors, volunteers, musicians and the Concourse staff.
Daniel Ang: It is coming to an end, our wonderful three days together. To the over 500 delegates who came, thank you for your grass roots work. Thanks to Bishop Comensoli for his confidence and trust and for taking Proclaim 2016 on as a continuing gift to the Church. Special thanks to my personal staff Natalie and Jenny. Thanks to our two MC's David and Alison. We now call upon the Holy Spirit to help us to return and to do.
Hymns, prayers and a blessing followed, together with a reading from Luke 5:1-11
Now it happened that Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round Him listening to the Word of God, when He caught sight of two boats at the water's edge. The fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats - it was Simon's - and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then He sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When He had finished speaking He said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.' Simon replied, 'Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if You say so, I will pay out the nets.' And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled both boats to sinking point. When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, 'Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.' For he and all his companions were completely awestruck at the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's partners. But Jesus said to Simon, 'Do not be afraid; from now on it is people you will be catching.' Then, bringing their boats back to land they left everything and followed Him.
We were sent to serve the needs of the Church and to strengthen our bonds of communion.
The panel covered some very pertinent questions that I think most of us would have liked to have heard more in depth discussion on.
One of the things that came home to me as I talked with people at the conference was the dichotomy between the experience of the speakers (mostly leaders and curial officials from large well-resourced dioceses and archdioceses) and the situations of the delegates (mostly pastors and parishioners from regional and remote parishes with extremely limited resources).
For Proclaim 2018 I would very much like to see speakers from ordinary non-Cathedral parishes in Australia that have been growing at healthy rates. If time was spent this year finding those parishes and learning their stories and sharing them, the protagonists of them would be just as big drawcards to the next Conference as any 'big names'. I'd like less people to go away despondent because they know what needs to be done, and know what is possible in bigger places, but can't see how to apply it in their own context and more people to leave with true hope 'that if Kincumber, Mount Isa and Geraldton can do it, by George, so can we!'.
This is the last issue in the Proclaim 2016 series.