Catholic Outlook, Volume 19, April 2016
Dear brothers and sisters,
Once again we are celebrating the great 50 days of Easter, and let this be a time in all our parishes, agencies and communities to recognise that the Risen Christ is at the centre of all that we do as a local Church here in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Several weeks ago I was invited to attend a gathering of young people from various Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches being sponsored by the Melkite Eparchy, and held at St Margaret Mary’s Parish in Merrylands.
The purpose of the gathering was to explore our ‘oneness in Christ’ and to learn more of each other’s traditions and ways of being Church. It was very impressive.
One thing that struck me quite forcibly was that while each Church concluded with a piece of liturgical music from their rite, sung for the most part in ancient languages, the voices of the young people who spoke about their understanding of Mercy in this Jubilee Year all had unmistakable Australian accents.
As I reflected on this I realised that the wonderful cultural diversity we have as a Church in Australia is a matter of great rejoicing. And, of course, it simply doesn’t apply to those from these communities. One of the great strengths of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Parramatta is the rich ethnic mix that constitutes our Church.
Since before the Diocese came into existence some 30 years ago next month, the Archdiocese of Sydney had already made provision for the establishment of new parishes and the building of new church plant alongside some of our historic parishes, which were founded in the 19th Century.
The Church could see in the 1950s and early 1960s that there would be increased migration, and that many of these migrants would come from countries which were largely Catholic in terms of religious adherence, and the Church needed to act to make provision for the new Catholic arrivals.
Subsequently, we have seen people come and settle from almost every place on the planet. Like those young Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christians, they have brought with them a wonderful Christian heritage from their country of origin, and those traditions now enrich and enliven the Church of Parramatta through the observance of various festivals and other activities.
Wisely, the Australian bishops made a decision to establish ethnic chaplaincies to assist the new Catholic arrivals to find their feet and provide a place initially where they could meet with others from their place of origin, celebrate liturgy in a familiar language, and seek support when needed as they integrated into their new home.
Over the years the new arrivals have incorporated themselves into the local parishes and are thus making enormous and positive contributions to the life of their Catholic communities.
Their children and no doubt grandchildren while still proudly celebrating their heritage now, like the young people at Merrylands a few weeks ago, also have very Australian accents!
What does this mean for the future shape and the substance of the Church of Parramatta?
While it is probably true that the Church culture in Australia, until quite recently, was somewhat mono-cultural, in that principally the traditions and ways of being was largely that of Irish Catholicism, that has disappeared very fast.
With clergy coming from a multiplicity of nations, and a congregation that might have as many as 40 different nationalities represented, something unique and new is emerging. I think we are still in the early days of this evolution and perhaps a distinctive Australian ecclesiastical culture is still a way off.
What is essential is that we provide capacity in our parishes and communities to recognise that we have this potential and that we allow the Spirit of the Risen Christ to open our eyes to new possibilities in the way we present ourselves as Church communities, with a blend of various Catholic cultures and traditions given expression.
While this is happening, we must ensure though that we do not become too introspective – Pope Francis continually reminds us that we must be a Church that is present at the margins and that our task of proclaiming the Good News in Jesus Christ is to bring others into our parishes so that they too can add to the mix.
It is an exciting and challenging time to belong to the Diocese and we have much more to do. As we come to the climax of the Easter Season with the celebration of Pentecost may the Holy Spirit that came upon the Apostles like “tongues of flame” also inflame our hearts to be the people and the Church that Christ wants us to become.
With joy in the Risen Lord,
Very Rev G Peter Williams
Diocese of Parramatta