As we’ve prepared as a Church for the upcoming Plenary Council, Catholics all around Australia have been encouraged to have their say about important issues facing us now and into the future.
This focus on sharing, listening and empowerment has resonated deeply with Diane Van Aken, who has been the Diocese of Parramatta’s Records and Archives Manager since 2018. Diane attends St Therese’s Catholic Church in Miller, has been married for 26 years and has a growing family of five children and three grandchildren. She’s also a proud Wiradjuri woman and serves as the Deputy Chairperson of her Local Aboriginal Land Council, with whom she’s been connected for over 30 years.
In the planning and preparation stages leading up to the First Assembly of the Plenary Council, Diane was involved in brainstorming events organised by the Diocese of Parramatta. These events filled her with hope for the Council’s proceedings. “I think the Plenary Council is a wonderful opportunity for all levels of the Catholic Church in Australia to influence the direction it intends to pursue into the future,” she says.
She feels the agenda topics of conversion, prayer, formation, structures, governance and institutions are all relevant, timely and meaningful. As she reflected on the topics she was struck by the common themes of communication and shared decision-making, and she hopes these themes will enrich the Council’s proceedings and discussions. “It is important the decision-making process is shared to avoid hierarchical decisions and to be respectful of others’ gifts,” she says. “I believe patience, tolerance and respect is the way to move forward.”
The need to move forward and implement changes will inevitably bring challenges. “Change can be difficult especially if you’ve been doing something a certain way for a very long time,” Diane says. She sees continued adaptation as essential if we want to continue the positive changes the Church in Australia has made, but emphasises it’s important to remember our identity and values. “Adaptation doesn’t mean having to compromise the teachings of the Church to be considered as relevant in today’s society,” she says.
For Diane, these changes won’t be possible without allowing diverse voices to speak and be heard. “You need diversity to ensure transparency and to bring a different perspective,” she says. Listening to the needs of the Aboriginal community is also important. Although cultural sensitivities mean Diane is unable to comment on issues facing the Aboriginal population in the Parramatta area, she pinpoints both access to dental care and appropriate accommodation for youth struggling at home, with mental health and with addictions as issues which the Church could invest in to continue its positive work in supporting Aboriginal issues across Australia.
Listening to others leads to them feeling empowered, and it’s this empowerment which is Diane’s main hope for the Plenary Council. If we want authentic change, she says, it’s essential to give Australian Catholics the opportunity to take ownership of their Church. “We are the future of the Church,” she says. “If that momentum can be sustained, then I can see a positive, vibrant future ahead.”
The first assembly of the Plenary Council will see nearly 280 members drawn from all Catholic dioceses in Australia, meeting online to discuss the Agenda questions from 3 to 10 October 2021. You are invited to consider the Agenda questions and provide your feedback to them by emailing email@example.com. Your feedback will be passed to the members of the Plenary Council from the Diocese of Parramatta.
Find details on how you can participate in the Plenary Council’s daily Masses and livestreamed sessions, our Diocese’s response to the Agenda questions and further resources including the Diocesan prayer for the Plenary Council at parracatholic.org/plenary-2021/
Bishop Vincent will say a special Mass this Sunday 3 October at 11am for the Plenary Council. View the livestream on the St Patrick’s Cathedral Facebook page.
The official First Assembly Opening Mass will take place at 2pm on Sunday and can be viewed here.