Our Diocesan Pastoral Council, Deanery Pastoral Councils and Parish Pastoral Councils are significant bodies who seek to both represent and engage our communities in caring, Christ-centred and collaborative ways as we seek to become the community Christ calls us to be. Our councils seek to enable the “voice of the people”, in and through listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying, as they remain faithful to the heart of our faith.
Pope Francis says: “How necessary pastoral councils are! A Bishop cannot guide a Diocese without pastoral councils. A Parish Priest cannot guide without pastoral councils!” (from discourse during the meeting with clergy, consecrated persons and members of pastoral councils, Assisi, 4 October 2013).
In these days of the pandemic, our councils have taken on an extra significance as they develop pastoral responses to Covid-19, offering positive pathways forward.
Some of the parish pastoral councils which our pastoral planning office has accompanied recently, have been liaising with their various ministries and works, exploring new ways of building up the body of Christ and outreaching to their local neighbourhoods. Initiatives such as phone trees and checking in with isolated parishioners have been simple yet meaningful responses.
Other parishes have worked with the pastoral planning office in planning for their ongoing mission, reshaping priorities in light of the pandemic, and looking for online ways to enhance their mission via approaches such as Alpha and Saturday Sessions.
Some pastoral Councils have also taken this opportunity to spend quality time in understanding different models of church leadership. As more parishes establish leadership teams to work with the parish priest/community leader these councils have developed how these key bodies can work most effectively together to bring to life the mission of the Church.
Each deanery pastoral council, with members drawn from the deanery parishes, shares what is happening across the parishes, and are always on the lookout for how they can support each other with ideas and initiatives. One of our deaneries has developed an online hub for sharing the goodness of parishes with one another. Questions being asked at council meetings include how they are ensuring their parishes are COVID-safe, and how are they addressing the support of sacraments and spiritual and pastoral care of parishioners.
The Deanery Pastoral Councils are also keen to support those doing it particularly tough. One such group is our refugees and asylum seekers, who are unable to access the supports being offered by our government in response to the pandemic. One major issue is ensuring foodbanks that refugees and asylum seekers access are well supplied on a consistent basis. Our deanery pastoral councils, in consultation with Patrice Moriarty, Social Justice Coordinator, are beginning to collaborate together in ensuring a steady supply of donations from our parishes to support the work of services such as House of Welcome and Jesuit Refugee Services.
Our Diocesan Pastoral Council has not been idle either. Earlier this year, Bishop Vincent Long shared priorities for the work of the Diocesan and Deanery Pastoral Councils, including their role in promoting baptismal responsibility, attentiveness to the vulnerable and marginalised, while remaining aligned to the Plenary Council 2020 process.
The Diocesan Pastoral Council, supported by the Pastoral Planning Office, and in consultation with the five deanery pastoral councils, is developing vision, mission and focus areas based on the priorities offered by Bishop Vincent Long. This forms the operational plan for the Deanery and Diocesan Pastoral councils for the next two years, in the absence of a new diocesan pastoral plan, which awaits the outcome of the Plenary Council. This plan will also be shared with our parish pastoral councils.
It is clear that our councils and communities are creatively bringing to life the recent document from the Vatican regarding parishes, which states: “every member of the faithful is created for the building up of the whole Body and, at the same time, the whole People of God, in the reciprocal co-responsibility of its members, participates in the mission of the Church, that is, discerning in history the signs of the presence of God and becoming witnesses of His Kingdom.” (The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church, Congregation for the Clergy, 20 July 2020)
Our Councils always welcome your ideas and questions. Contact your parish to find out more about your local parish pastoral council or contact the Pastoral Planning Office on firstname.lastname@example.org or 8838 3441 for information about our diocesan and deanery pastoral councils. The Pastoral Planning Office also is available to support the growth and resourcing of parish pastoral councils.
Richard McMahon is the Director of Pastoral Planning & Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.
This article was originally featured in the Spring 2020 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.