And while that is where our focus may be beginning to turn, I remind all of us not to take our mind off the Plenary Council of 2020 and the preparation to respond to the question:
What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?
When beginning the Listening and Dialogue process with people not only do we pray the Plenary prayer but we listen to and watch the Plenary Council song – Listen to What the Spirit is Saying.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge begins the song by speaking the following words while the didgeridoo is played:
This is an anointed time, make no mistake about it. A time when we are called in ways we did not see coming, into the experience of a new Pentecost.
And then the words of the song:
It is time to hear God speak once again
Through the Word and through each other anew
Of a Church that shines love’s light to the world
Of a Church that looks like Jesus.
Let’s listen to what the Spirit is saying,
The voice that brings peace and sets hearts on fire.
It is time for love to shine like the dawn
Through the Church to all that hunger for life
Revealing Christ in all his glory and grace
Bringing joy and giving life.
Some of you may be wondering what goes on in the diocese, or even questioning if any real pastoral encounters occur. I thought I would share with you the ‘events’ or encounters of the past week. I have managed to attend most of these and believe much is offered, while the general response can be most disappointing. I think we are providing opportunities for listening to and responding to the Spirit. I will begin with Sunday and work back through the week that has been, looking at the opportunities for us to be people of faith, responding to God’s mission to be Christ in our world.
L’Arche Retreat Weekend – this involved the Hunter and Sydney communities of L’Arche gathering at the Conference Centre at Rathmines. I was only able to attend on Sunday. There were about fifty people in attendance, about half of those with a disability and the other half making up the L’Arche community of supporters and carers. The focus for this weekend was on seeds, new life and growth. The key aim of L’Arche is to form a community of people, including both those with and without a disability. L’Arche Hunter have a community gathering on the first Saturday of each month and all are welcome to come along, especially those seeking to belong to a community such as this.
Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People (DCMYP) Thread Day – about twelve of us gathered on Saturday afternoon to explore the ministry to youth and young people in our diocese. Those in attendance are attempting to provide a ministry with/to the youth of their respective parishes. The idea behind these Thread Days, which will be held four times a year, is to provide support for those in youth ministry and to explore new ideas in connecting with young people, many of who are seeking and searching. What became evident to me was the lack of knowledge of opportunities to connect.
Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW) Diocesan Contact Group – these women met on Saturday morning to keep on making possible a place for women to meet and have a voice of support and encouragement. The Magdalene Award is one of their projects, in recognition of a woman living in, and committed to, the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. It is a public affirmation of a life being lived in ways that echo the spirit of Mary Magdalene, ‘apostle to the apostles’. Once again any woman, young, not-so-young and older is encouraged to be part of this group of wonderful women.
Pregnancy Help Australian hosted its biennial life affirming conference in Newcastle over the weekend – Embracing Life, Embracing Change. Pregnancy Help Australia represents member organisations from across Australia engaged in life-affirming pregnancy support work. Many travelled long distances to hear interesting speakers from overseas and Australia, to network and to gain support. There exists within Newcastle a Pregnancy Help organisation.
Open Day at the Mosque – The Islamic Centre at Mayfield invited anyone from the community to an open day. I attended for a short period of time, so as to show my support of our good and mutual relationship with them. The Mosque was very busy and I could see people engaged in good conversations.
Mass for the Religious of the Diocese – this was held on Saturday morning and was mostly attended by the religious women of our diocese from the Sisters of St Joseph, The Mercy Sisters and the Dominican Sisters. When I am with these women, I am grateful for their initial response to God’s call for them to serve and their continuing yes to that call, even when a vowed consecrated life does not appear to be the way of our present world. Bishop Bill indicated in his homily that something new will emerge because people are still being called to witness to God’s love in the world.
The Welcome Scroll, an initiative of Rural Australians for Refugees, arrived in the City of Newcastle on Friday. Even though the reception for witnessing the signing of this scroll was small, it was good to be there with a range of people from different community groups in Newcastle.
The Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network – a small group of Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church people who gather every two months to work on joint social justice initiatives and support each other in this important work of social justice outreach in and to the wider community. This group was responsible for the recent Give Us a Sign campaign during the Season of Creation.
Mental Health Month Gathering – How to share the journey when things are a bit tough was held on Thursday in the Muswellbrook. Disappointingly, the numbers were small and some deduced that this was most likely because of the continuing stigma attached to those who experience mental health difficulties. For those who attended, the information sharing, story-telling and conversations were very valuable and another such gathering was requested again.
Broad-based Community Organising, planning meeting, exploring the possibility of establishing a Newcastle-Hunter Alliance, was held to work towards a two-day workshop at the end of November. I am finding this opportunity for many community-based organisations to come together for the good of the community to be an exciting prospect for us and for the wider community. This is a grass-roots movement to explore issues that may be of concern to the community and that can be addressed by joining together in partnership and relationship.
Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (CPSL) – Sheree Limbrick the CEO of CPSL spoke to those in leadership in the diocese during the week. CPSL was formed in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia. It operates independently from the Church. Its board directors are lay people with professional expertise in the fields of law, education, human services, safeguarding and regulation. Catholic Professional Standards Ltd acknowledges the lifelong trauma of abuse victims, survivors and their families, the failure of the Catholic Church to protect, believe and respond justly to children and vulnerable adults, and the consequent breaches of community trust.
Catholic Professional Standards Ltd (CPSL) is committed to fostering a culture of safety and care for children and vulnerable adults by developing National Catholic Safeguarding Standards.
CPSL will audit compliance with these Standards, holding the leaders and members of Catholic organisations accountable for the safety of children and vulnerable adults who come into contact with the Church and its works. This includes Catholic dioceses, congregations and institutions providing education, health and aged care, social and community services, pastoral care and other services.
CPSL will publicly report audit findings and provide education and training in respect of the Safeguarding Standards.
Two Bishop’s Dialogue – Bishop Bill and Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart met in Chisholm to dialogue about how both of our churches reach out to the community and what we could do together to fill in the missing gaps. What was most powerfully addressed was the place for parishes to be engaged with the local context, while it was acknowledged that parishes are presently under stress. It is this local church that is the community of faith, which gathers and is sent forth. The question was raised about our capacity to demonstrate once again a ‘charism of bravery’.
Areej Masoud - On Monday night a wonderful young woman, a Palestinian Christian, who lives in Bethlehem spoke to a group of about 30 people of the experience of both Christian and Islamic Palestinians living within Israeli settlements. She spoke about them as ‘living stones’ which are often not visible to people who visit the Holy Land. She raised the question, ‘Is the Holy Land still holy?’ I was surprised by the number of restrictions they face daily and the difficulties of just living a ‘normal’ life. She referred to those of us who took the time to sit with her and to listen to the story as truth-seekers.
The National Apology delivered by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition invited a nation to stop and feel for the many silent voices over history, the voices of abuse, shame, powerlessness, hurt, harm, brutality, brokenness, grief, loss, stolen childhood, manipulation….. Many words have been written about this apology and I am still left mute in the face of the historical abuse of children and the reality that it still occurs. We are meant to protect those who are unable to.
And to finish the past week’s litany of opportunities, I think the following quote does if for me: