Who IS listening to the voices of our parishioners? Wendy Goonan and Carol Teodori-Blahut are for a start.
Wendy and Carol are the two lay delegates from the Diocese of Parramatta, representing all Catholics at the Plenary Council meetings. They are part of a delegation of nine, with the other members being clergy from the Diocese.
“We’ve committed to do our best to communicate the thoughts and feelings of the people of the Diocese to the Plenary Council,” says Wendy. “Our Church and faith mean different things to different people, so this isn’t as easy as it looks. However, I have noticed some trends.”
Wendy and Carol have read the responses that the parishioners of our Diocese submitted in 2018 and 2019 when they were asked by the Plenary Council facilitation team what they thought God was asking of us at this time.
“It is clear there is a desire to reduce the number of people leaving the Church, especially young people,” says Wendy.
“Across the Diocese, people asked how we can reach out to those not in the pews, both in evangelisation and in simple charity and welcome. People want to see lay people, especially women, play a bigger role in management and decision-making. Including different cultures in parish activities, and healing for victims of clergy abuse are important, as is a more compassionate approach to people who are divorced and remarried.
“People are very interested in parish and school relationships and how we teach faith to children. There is also a clear desire for adult faith formation,” she concludes.
These issues appear to be common across other Dioceses, observes Wendy. In the Diocese of Parramatta, the feedback informed the Diocesan Forum in 2019. Wendy has also heard some of our parishes are already putting their parishioners’ submission ideas into practice.
Both Wendy and Carol are looking forward to meeting and collaborating with other delegates, including the clergy delegates from the Diocese. After all, the Plenary is about the people of our Church.
Carol tells us, “My hope for the Plenary is that whenever or however we meet, we make real human contact; that we see each other as brothers and sisters on a pilgrimage.” She sees the Australian Church is learning more about discernment (reflecting and listening to the Holy Spirit) through this process. “I hope we grow more and more into a discerning community,” she says.
“That is my biggest hope.”
Wendy feels the process of looking at other people’s views has helped her reflect more on her own faith. She asks for the rest of us to support the delegates through prayer “for all delegates and the success of the Plenary Council, so we become the Church that Christ calls us to be.”
Wendy Goonan is from the Parish of Baulkham Hills and Carol Teodori-Blahut belongs to Our Lady of the Nativity Parish, Lawson.
The Instrumentum Laboris, the Council’s Working Document, had not been released at the time of going to press, but was expected to be released in February 2021.
The First Assembly of the Plenary Council is scheduled to meet in October 2021.
This article was originally featured in the Lent and Easter/Autumn 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.