As nine new faces join the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC), we farewell others who have completed their three-year term. As inaugural members of the most recent Diocesan Pastoral Council, Mei Velasco, Sr Grace Roclawska csfn and Len Blahut share their experience of the last three years.
Q: What have you enjoyed, celebrated, learnt in the past three years on the Diocesan Pastoral Council?
Sr Grace Rocklawska csfn, Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and parishioner of Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton: Being part of the Diocesan Pastoral Council was an experience of being a Church community, being part of the process of establishing structures which would support what people have been doing always – creating the Church. I appreciate the involvement of Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, and his encouragement to challenge him and one another. I celebrated the success of Deanery Pastoral Councils and their learnings on how to support local parishes most effectively. I have learnt that there are many dreams of what the Church of the future might look like here in Australia and that the process of shaping this dream starts on the local level, where it needs to be nourished and then shared with other people “on fire” for the mission of the Church.
Mei Velasco, parishioner of St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong: The past 3 years, I’ve very much enjoyed sharing and listening to each person’s story and how their paths have come to be on the Diocesan Pastoral Council. It’s been a real privilege to journey and learn from wisdom figures who have shared their ups and downs about their faith and community. And it continues to challenge and inspire me to live out the Gospel values in my day to day living.
Len Blahut, parishioner of Our Lady of the Nativity Parish, Lawson: To have been accepted onto the inaugural Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) of the Diocese of Parramatta in December 2017, was truly an exciting moment for me. As a senior citizen, being a member of this body was an opportunity to offer leadership in prayer and discernment – two aspects of the spiritual life that I have long treasured.
Q: What have been the challenges?
Sr Grace: The DPC was newly “born” when I was asked to join in – ultimately, we were making “baby steps” in its development. I felt very privileged to be appointed to this newly created group, and at the same time, I was getting frustrated that the time of the development of the roles and responsibilities is not as fast as one could wish. These challenges were embraced by the open dialogue of all involved and an excellent and wise leadership of the DPC executives.
Mei: Our main challenge has been working out what kind of role we can play as a Diocesan Pastoral Council. While I say challenge, it has also given us the opportunity to really reflect on what areas of growth need to occur in our church and how can we as a council be an influence of change in our thoughts and actions.
Len: As a diocesan body about which much official documentation had been produced in the light of Vatican II, it nevertheless took at least two years for this ‘newly-minted’ set of committed individuals across the diocese – ranging in age from mid-twenties to the seventies – to ‘find its legs’. What was to be our scope of pastoral concern? What should the Bishop, President of this council, hear from us? How challenging and frank could we be? With the encouragement of Bishop Vincent and having Pope Francis setting the tone at the global level, each one in their own way began to lend a voice that has brought us today to the stage of seeing the big picture, setting up our relationships gradually with other sectors of the diocese, and recognising that our Church is being called to one of mission, contrasted from the era of largely maintaining a well-groomed internal structure and activity.
Q: What gifts were you able to share with this group?
Sr Grace: I have never been short of passion for Christ and His Church and it is a gift which I can contribute the best of my life and as a consecrated person. My experiences of working on the parish level and in the leadership positions within the church gave me an ability to be the voice of those in the church pews and carrying them to those who can make the change happen. I shared my experience of the spirit of listening and synodality, learnt during my involvement in the Plenary Council.
Mei: In as much I could juggle different commitments, the gift of time and presence was something I hope I shared with the group.
Len: An essential in our meetings (held four/five times a year) before any business was attended to, was to make space for meaningful prayer and reflection and formation…to come to know WHO we are as a body, to develop the skill of listening to what the SPIRIT is saying, sharpening our skill of discernment in the light of the Gospel. This space also encouraged the development of our friendships in the face of our diversity, recognising that each of us come with varied spiritualities, theologies and life-experiences. In so doing, after three years, our eyes and ears have developed a keen sense of what is requiring our attention, namely the plight of the disadvantaged, parish leadership models, responsibilities of the faithful, the absence of our young people, and the healing process in view of the sexual abuse fallout. The fruits of this attention on the council’s part now remain to be seen as the council enters its fourth year in 2021.
Q: What are your hopes for the Diocesan Pastoral Council in the future?
Sr Grace: I hope that the DPC will continue to be a “living organism” driven by the vision and mission of our Bishop Vincent and all people in the Diocese of Parramatta and beyond.
Mei: My first hope is for the council members to see the ‘other’ in one another and to treasure each person’s story and gifts that they each encounter. My second hope is that the Diocesan Pastoral Council is able to be a sounding board for anyone working within the Diocese of Parramatta. May the Bishop and priests seek out the wisdom that is present within the Council that encourages them to be collaborators within our church.
Len: It would be fair to say that the DPC has truly embarked on following the vision of Pope Francis and Bishop Vincent – collaborative leadership, transparency, care for those on the margins, listening to the whole body of Christ – into the centre of our reflection and deliberations.
I am more than delighted that I was able to be part of such development within our diocese in the past three years; to have had our brother in Christ, Bishop Vincent, encourage a boldness in expressing ourselves as equal members of the Diocesan community was a gift for these times.