Catholic faithful encouraged to go out into the deep

By Mary Brazell, 16 July 2019
Attendees at the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

 

Do not be afraid to convey the Gospel in new ways and launch into the deep.

That was one of the messages Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, shared with 250 faithful gathered in Parramatta at the inaugural Diocesan Forum on Saturday 13 July.

The faithful, at the Bishop’s invitation, included priests, religious, school leaders, chaplains, parishioners, and members of different agencies and ministries from across the Catholic Church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

VIEW: Images from the Diocesan Forum 2019 below or click here

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Coordinated by the Pastoral Planning Office, Diocese of Parramatta, the Diocesan Forum was a chance for members of the diocese to have their say on the future of the Catholic church in an open and honest conversation.

Participants during the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

The Diocesan Forum’s main theme was ‘Go Out into the Deep: Becoming the Community Christ Calls us to Be,’ based on the Bishop’s episcopal motto and Luke’s Gospel (5:1-11).

The Diocesan Forum also explored the Plenary Council 2020’s Six National Themes for Discernment, which emerged from thousands of submissions across the country over a period of 12 months.

“It’s amazing to see the broad collection of people from around the diocese, and everyone’s so involved and obviously keen to participate,” Sr Catherine Ryan, Chancellor, Diocese of Parramatta, said.

Members of the Catholic Youth Parramatta LIFTED Band led prayer throughout the day including the unofficial theme songs of the Forum – ‘All are Welcome’ and ‘Holy Spirit, You are Welcome Here’.

Members of the CYP LIFTED band lead prayer during the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

“We begin a conversation that cannot end here today. We begin steps towards change that cannot end here today. We are called to be bold and listen with a humble heart,” Emcee and Chair of the Diocesan Pastoral Council Padmi Pathinather said during her welcome and introduction.

Sr Kari Hatherell OSU was then introduced as the Forum Facilitator. “The process today you are invited into is a process of respectful listening to each other. We’re invited in our song this morning to bring our hopes and bring our dreams, this is a place where mercy flows and love redeems.

“If we’re going to be this synodal church that walks together, I think what we need to learn is to be a listening church, and that’s why these conversations are so important because they model what our Catholic Christian life is about,” she said.

Forum Facilitator Sr Kari Hatherell OSU speaks at the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

During his opening address, Bishop Vincent invited the diocese to think of ‘a new way of being Church.’

“I would like to thank you for joining together in this important exercise of listening, discerning and envisioning the roadmap for the future of the church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains and beyond.

“We must not be afraid to embrace new, fresh, creative ways of embodying and conveying effectively the message of the Gospel to the culture in which we life.

“We cannot conduct ourselves ‘business as usual’ because the ground under our feet has shifted. The Holy Spirit is speaking to us as the Church through the challenges and the signs of the times and they demand a Gospel-inspired response. We need to work in partnership and embed the values and principles we want to embrace into the structures and practices of our diocese.

Bishop Vincent Long speaks during his opening address at the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

“We need to create a church that is more humble, transparent, accountable to the faithful and even to the community at large. The time has come for the church to be truly the church of the baptised and together, with the ordained, all the people of God, all of us, can create that new culture that we long for – a culture of humility, accountability and service – which is at the heart of the Gospel.

“Friends, may the Holy Spirit accompany us as we move boldly into the direction of the Kingdom. Let’s have the courage to launch ourselves into the deep.”

VIEW: Images from the Diocesan Forum 2019 below or click here

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During each session, attendees heard from various voices around the diocese on the Holy Spirit’s call to change and to working in partnership with one another to be the Community of Christ’s disciples. Attendees were then given time for personal reflection, and then to share with their discussion groups.

“The forum was a powerful event for me in that it helped us hear each other and many realised we were yearning for similar changes in our church experience. Bishop Vincent saw today as a start to making a cultural change. I look forward to the next part of the journey,” Dennis Farrar said, a parishioner from St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springwood.

Participants during the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

“I hope out of this Diocesan Forum, we can go back to understanding that, what Fr Eugene said earlier, was the answer to a lot of these questions, a lot of our issues is going back to our own holiness. If we are truly holy the way God wants us to be holy, then everyone will feel loved, everyone will be welcomed in a community. We need to find holiness in ourselves and cultivate that within ourselves and spread it to others,” Carmelle Cuanan said, a parishioner St Aidan’s Parish, Rooty Hill and member of the Central Deanery Council.

For David Bourne, a member of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Mission Team and parishioner of St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie, the Diocesan Forum was a “wonderful” experience. “To hear representative voices of our diocese: to listen; to discern and the chance to act. You have provided a safe place where people feel comfortable to share faith and personal story. I am filled with optimism as our diocese and church moves ‘into the deep’,” David said.

VIEW: Images from the Diocesan Forum 2019 below or click here

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Fr Chuckwunonyerem Akamadu, assistant priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes explained that the Diocesan Forum was “worth doing.”

“[The Diocesan Forum] is really a good way to go back to ask ourselves where we are, and where are we going to. It’s another opportunity to bring us all together to appreciate our faith, looking at ourselves not as just as pockets of individuals scattered together, but as sons and daughters of our God who loves us.

“One big thing I am hoping that will come out of today is for us to go back to the basics, to that Christ-centred life, like the Gospels tell us. I am hoping that our encountering our people every day will begin to bring out the best in them, making them leave everything aside not very much associated with our calling to becoming like Christ like we see Him lovingly painted in the Gospels,” he said.

Good News stories from around the diocese were placed at the sacred space through nets at the inaugural Diocesan Forum. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

“[I hope] that the journey we’ve started on, giving people voice, will continue. It’s the first step in the process. I think that once you’ve started that process of giving people voice, it’s not going to stop. I hope that that’s a good sign of being synodal, walking together, talking together, so that’s full of hope for the Church,” Sr Catherine explained.

“I found the occasion of the inaugural Diocesan Forum in our diocese as truly momentous in its tone, prayerfulness and freedom of expression,” Leonard Blahut of the Diocesan Pastoral Council said.

“It seemed clear from the initial addresses by the Emcee and Facilitator that this forum was to be an occasion for listening. The smallness of the table group numbers gave time for some real listening. Yet it felt at times that there was much more to unpack; but the message from the podium was clear that this event was just the beginning.

“Bishop Vincent’s address set a tone of freeing up every attendee to think freely, boldly and outside the box. He expressed clearly his vision for a ‘Church of the Baptised’ and not solely of the ordained. The genius of his address gave each person the facility to see how the laity and ordained are to work together,” Leonard added.

The conversation will continue beyond the Forum and includes engaging the whole diocese in the Plenary Council 2020 Listening and Discernment Stage.

The diocese is planning on developing post-Forum ways of engaging a broader range of people in becoming the Church Christ calls us to be.

 

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