Symposium affirms Catholic faith relevant in today’s world

8 November 2022
Professor Dr Didier Pollefeyt of Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, in Belgium, a keynote speaker at the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Symposium in November 2022. Image: CEDP.


Education leaders, clergy and leading Catholic thinkers gathered together in the heart of multicultural and multi-faith Western Sydney for the symposium “Catholic education for all: developing a culture of dialogue”. In the spirit of synodality, the unique event was a distinctive statement of Catholic identity in dialogue with our times.

RELATED: Bishop Vincent’s Address to the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Symposium: ‘Catholic Education for all, building a culture of dialogue’

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta gave a powerful keynote address in which he shared a hope-filled vision for Catholic schools. With a focus on schooling that is inclusive, caring and wholesome, Bishop Vincent strongly stated: “Catholic schools find their authenticity in the Gospel priorities of inclusion and special concern for young people at risk of being left behind. We are not schools that provide education for Catholics only but Catholic education for all.”

The Bishop’s speech laid the foundation for two days of meaningful discourse focused on key dimensions of Catholic faith communities such as leadership, prayer and contemporary pedagogy. Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Director Mission, Monica Officer, was thrilled to welcome expert facilitators including Dr Paul Sharkey, Rev Dr Patrick McInerney SSC, Dr Jayne-Louise Collins, Dr Teresa Brown, Dr Laurie Woods, Prof Br David Hall, Ms Phil Billington, Ms Bernadette Fabri, Mr Mark Sattler and Ms Cheryl Merryweather. An affirmation of faith-filled leadership, the event was also a chance to recognise the strength of schools as Christ-centred communities living the beatitudes each day in profound ways, as seen in the many ways they worked together to respond to COVID-19.

Professor Dr Didier Pollefeyt of Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, in Belgium and his colleague Drs Jan Bouwens, drew from the instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue to provide a provocation and further reflection about the future of Catholic education in an ever-changing world. Professor Pollefeyt described diversity as an opportunity for Catholic schools and further made a case for authentic Catholic schools in dialogue with diversity. Professor Pollefeyt pointed to the welcome extended to non-Catholic students at Catholic schools throughout history, and endorsed the earlier comments from Bishop Vincent Long.

A thought-provoking panel discussion on the question: “What does Catholic education for all look like in the 21st century in the Diocese of Parramatta?” was led by Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Deputy Executive Director and Director Strategic Delivery Christine Howe OAM. This conversation between Professor Dr Didier Pollefeyt, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Executive Director Greg Whitby and St Patrick’s Primary Parramatta Principal Bernadette Fabri, included sharing successes and reflections on complexity and challenges. Diocese of Parramatta Vicar General and Episcopal Vicar for Education, the Very Rev Christopher de Souza VG EV PP, shared a clerical perspective on the imperative for respectful dialogue.

With 80 schools across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta students also had a role in the event, including through the Welcome to Country from Darug Elder Aunty Peta Strachan where students from Caroline Chisholm College Glenmore Park and Catherine McAuley Westmead performed a series of Aboriginal dances from Western Sydney. This sharing of culture provided an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to Reconciliation with Australia’s First Nations people. Students of St Luke’s Catholic College Marsden Park, St Paul the Apostle Primary, Winston Hills and Fr Andrew Fornal OP, also prayed a multi-lingual rosary.

Students also featured in several moving liturgies during the two days. There was a powerful reflection piece in which students (Cerdon College, Merrylands and St Paul’s College, Greystanes) and staff painted the face, hands and feet of Christ on stage. This served as a striking reminder of our shared responsibility to be Christ to others, as in the prayer of St Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours”. Students from St Aidan’s Primary, Rooty Hill, reenacted the Gospel story of the road to Emmaus. There were tears in the room during an angelic rendition of “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” from students of Nagle College Blacktown South.

An invitation to grow in faith and learning, the legacy of the immersive “Catholic education for all: developing a culture of dialogue” symposium will continue in Catholic schools across Western Sydney and well beyond.

Read Bishop Vincent’s address to the Symposium at this link.

See images from the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Symposium by clicking on the gallery below.


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