“The bishops and the Plenary Council team are deeply grateful to all people who have participated,” he said.
“It is important to stop and acknowledge the significant moment that this is for the entire Catholic community. I have been very moved by the stories of faith, hope and resilience I have heard.”
Reflecting on the almost 10 months since the first stage - the Listening and Dialogue process – started at Pentecost, Archbishop Costelloe said it had been impossible to predict how things would unfold.
“With no precedent for a national invitation to prayer, dialogue and sharing of stories, there was a sense of stepping into the unknown and being unsure of what the experience might become,” he explained.
“What we found, though, was an Australian community that was enthusiastic to consider the question: ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?’”
How many people participated?
The last official count of people who had participated in the opening Listening and Dialogue stage was more than 68,700.
“We have heard from our colleagues at the National Centre for Pastoral Research that there was an influx of submissions during February and a deluge in the final days leading up to Ash Wednesday,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“This is a landmark moment for the Church – not only in terms of the stories that have been shared, but also in the new relationships that have formed after encountering one another in dialogue. The change that this brings is already evident among people from all parts of the Church.”
In the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle we had 176 submissions – with 95 coming from groups and 81 from individuals. We had a total of 585 respondents, most of those Catholics over the age of 50.
Director of Pastoral Ministries, Teresa Brierley said “the Australian Plenary Council of 2020 is inviting us to have the courage to take part while carrying our wounds, pain, grief, despair and loss. When we are weak, we are strong.
“God is calling us, to be prophetic, to hear the voice of the Spirit and to respond with humility, patience, hope, faith and love.
“Many people from across the diocese have sat and respectfully listened to the Spirit and to each other without trying to find a ‘solution’. This plenary, synodal process does not focus on our need to problem-solve, it is about seeking wisdom through prayer and reflection and waiting for God to speak to us individually and collectively. I am looking forward to the next part of the process of Listening and Discernment when we will once again be invited to listen to what the Spirit is saying around the emerging themes.”
An invaluable experience for the Australian Church
Plenary Council facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, who has travelled to every state and territory – most on several occasions – said people have been very willing to share their stories.
“One of the common themes we have heard is people feel that the Listening and Dialogue encounter was invaluable,” she explained.
“Many people have mentioned that they haven’t really been asked to participate in anything like this before and that experiencing it together has been empowering because it has provided a platform for all voices to be heard.”
Ms Turvey-Collins said most have understood the need for prayerful engagement in considering what God might want.
“It’s a challenging question to be asking ourselves. The Scripture shaping this Plenary Council, ‘Listen to what the Spirit is saying’, is something that guides us very practically. In every conversation, every decision, we ask ourselves, ‘how is this helping all of us to listen to what God’s Spirit is saying?’
“The habit of encountering one another through listening and dialogue has been critical in the first stage of the process and will become more and more important over the two-plus years we still have to go before the second Council session.
“I am delighted that so many people from diverse parts of the Australian community have been a part of this process. It is a great sign of God with us on this journey,” she said
What is next?
The second stage of the preparation phase of Plenary Council, which begins on 9 June, will be Listening and Discernment.
“Discernment is a term that we hear quite often these days, and practising discernment in our communities and in our preparation towards the Plenary Council will help to ensure we are listening to God, listening to each other and considering our path forward as the People of God in Australia,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
With the Listening and Dialogue phase now complete, the National Centre for Pastoral Research will continue the deep listening process, conducting a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the submissions received and, using best-practice research methods, will identify key themes that have emerged.
Then, in May, the Bishops Commission for the Plenary Council, the Plenary Council Executive Committee and the Facilitation Team will work together with the National Centre for Pastoral Research to finalise the National Themes for Discernment.
Those themes will become the focus for the Listening and Discernment phase and will be the foundations for the Plenary Council agenda.
The final statistical data from the Listening and Dialogue phase will be released later this month.
For more information, visit the Plenary Council website at www.plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au