BBI’s eConference reflects on the hope of Pope Francis in troubled times

Communities across Australia and as far away as Peru, Mexico and Japan have engaged in an interactive discussion about the unique leadership style of Pope Francis at the 13th National eConference on 10 August organised by BBI-The Australian Institute of Theological Education.

Held in partnership with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, this year’s event brought together prominent international and national speakers including the former NSW Premier and Foreign Minister of Australia, Professor Bob Carr, the Editor at Large at The Australian, Paul Kelly and the Chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Elizabeth Proust to reflect on the theme, Gospel Leadership in Times of Chaos: the Hope of Pope Francis.

Alongside these speakers at the one day conference was the internationally respected expert on Vatican II, Professor Massimo Faggioli from the USA who is currently a guest lecturer at BBI and prominent religious leaders including the President of Catholic Religious Australia, Sr Ruth Durick OSU and the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Sr Clare Condon SGS. The MC for the event was BBI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Sylvia MacRitchie-Hook.

After an opening prayer from the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay, Peter Comensoli, Professor Faggioli was the first speaker, reflecting upon the transformative effect Pope Francis’ leadership has had on the Catholic Church over recent years.

“As the first non-European Pope, Pope Francis has promoted a more inclusive Church for the modern world and one which is far less Eurocentric”, Professor Faggioli explained.

“He has also helped to re-contextualise the Church, so that it reads the signs of the times and stands firmly with the marginalised, including refugees”, he added.

Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr spoke about the long term significance of the Responsibility to Protect- a global commitment endorsed by the United Nations in 2005 which followed humanitarian crises in Rwanda and Cambodia in previous decades.

“And when we reflect upon the current bloodshed in Syria, it’s clear that we still have so much to learn about the Responsibility to Protect when we still see the Syrian government mistreating its own people , including sadly its children”, explained Professor Carr who currently lectures in international relations at the University of Technology Sydney.

One of the country’s most respected political writers, Paul Kelly from The Australian reflected upon the inspirational leadership role Pope Francis is playing in the modern Catholic Church.

“And sadly it is a Church that has been deeply wounded by recent allegations of clerical abuse and in this context, I believe it needs to go far beyond repentance and instead needs to regain community trust over coming decades”, Mr Kelly said.

“Pope Francis is the ideal candidate to lead the Church through these challenging times  as he seeks to rebuild that trust through his style of humble, servant leadership”, he added.

The internationally respected theologian and anthropologist, Rev Dr Gerald Arbuckle SM took up a similar theme in his address at the eConference, reflecting on Pope Francis’ inspiring vision for the Church.

“As the first South American Pope, he has seen first-hand the brutal reality of poverty and he is constantly urging us not to forget the poor and the marginalised, but to embrace a Church that is ‘bruised, hurting and dirty’, which stands side by side with the needy”, Fr Gerald said.

The Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Sr Clare Condon SGS said Pope Francis was leading a long overdue movement towards a synodal Church.

“And it’s one where the laypeople actively participate in decision-making and that is committed to dialogue and collaboration on the key challenges of our time, including climate change, countering fundamentalism and serving those on the periphery of society”, Sr Clare explained.

The eConference concluded with an interactive Q&A panel, facilitated by ABC Religion presenter, Noel Debien, which reflected upon some of the most pressing challenges facing the contemporary Catholic Church in Australia and around the world. Participants in the eConference were able to send questions through directly to members of the panel via email and social media, as were members of a live audience at BBI in Sydney.

Through her work as a Member of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, Elizabeth Proust told the eConference, she hoped the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse could have a transformative effect on the Catholic Church and its governance over coming decades.

“It is clear that many Catholics are facing a crisis of faith and it is my sincere hope that we can now draw lessons from the Royal Commission and look to a new Church which is more transparent and which actively embraces the participation of laypeople more in its decision-making”, Ms Proust said.

Fellow panellist and President of Catholic Religious Australia, Sr Ruth Durick OSU, expressed a similar hope for the Church.

“We also need to see a more active place for women in the decision-making of the Catholic Church and a Church which is truly committed to the excluded,” Sr Ruth explained.

“The Eucharist is food for the wounded, not the perfect, drawing upon Jesus' call to embrace the excluded in our world and I believe Pope Francis indeed offers us that message of hope in our troubled world,” she added.

BBI is most grateful to our supporters for making the eConference such a success, including the interactive social media platform, XT3 and Church Support which helped expand the eConference to new audiences this year in Britain and Ireland.

The tradition will continue next year as the 2018 eConference focuses on the theme of Synodality in the lead up to the landmark Plenary Council for the Catholic Church in Australia in 2020.

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Michael Kenny

Michael Kenny is the Marketing and Recruitment Officer at BBI- The Australian Institute of Theological Education.

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