TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: An inclusive, participatory and synodal church

We have passed our shortest day for the year, something that always brings me great joy, as even though the days and nights still get colder, the length of daylight increases.

The Gospel reading for The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), the feeding of the crowd with the loaves and fishes which were blessed by Jesus, serves to remind us to give generously of the gifts we have had bestowed on us.

Last week we celebrated Refugee Week in Australia, with World Refugee Day falling on 20 June. The bigger theme over the past couple of years has been # With Refugees and this year’s sub theme was a world of stories. What a great theme, as it captures the essence of who we are as a people who inhabit this great land. Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world with over 500 different nationalities, and with the First Nations People making up about 3% of the population. More than 75% of Australians identified with an ancestry other than Australian, as their first response to the 2016 Census question; with 45% reporting that at least one parent was born overseas.

Interestingly, this seems to fit well with the second theme emerging from the Listening and Dialogue process for the Plenary Council. Beginning in July 2019, we are invited to reflect on Scripture, Church teaching and our contemporary situation in order to discern the answer to this question:

How is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is inclusive, participatory and synodal?

This National Theme for Discernment is inspired by the voices of the People of God who expressed a desire for individuals and groups within and also beyond the Church to find a better welcome and be incorporated more into her life and mission. There was a call to renew forms of governance and leadership in the Church, to find ways formally and informally of being co-responsible for ministry and mission, seeking structures and processes of collaboration, shared decision-making and financial co-responsibility in order to enable this greater involvement of lay people particularly of women, young people, people of diverse cultural backgrounds and people with disabilities. There was an expressed need for stronger connections across the many parts of the Church, and with other Christian traditions.

The following topics have been identified as forming part of this theme:

  • A voice in the selection and appointment of bishops
  • Affordable adult faith formation courses
  • Baby Boomer generation to listen to young Catholics
  • Become a Vatican II church
  • Better communication of what the Church does
  • Better implementation of Royal Commission Recommendations
  • Better interface between parish and school
  • Better Plenary Council process
  • Better preparation and support for married couples
  • Better selection and formation of candidates to priesthood
  • Better teachers in Catholic schools
  • Better use of finances
  • Care for neighbour
  • Care for the environment
  • Care for the family
  • Church should adapt to multicultural reality
  • Communion for all
  • Concerns for diminishing parish communities
  • Creation of small communities/groups within parishes
  • Cultural Masses
  • Defend right-to-life issues
  • Diocesan Pastoral Council
  • End celibacy, allow priests to be married
  • End Clericalism
  • End discrimination of LGBTQ
  • Establish more youth programs
  • Evangelisation in and of the family
  • Faith formation for parents
  • Fight for human rights issues
  • Focus on Ecumenism
  • Greater access to Mass and Reconciliation
  • Greater connection with and inclusion of Indigenous Australians
  • Greater focus on Jesus Christ
  • Greater focus on permanent deacons
  • Greater focus on the Word of God
  • Greater inclusion of all people
  • Greater involvement of the laity
  • Greater leadership from priests
  • Greater recognition of Eastern Catholic Churches
  • Greater role for women
  • Greater trust, faith and hope in God
  • Hierarchy to listen to the laity
  • Importance of Communion services in rural parishes
  • Inclusion of the divorced and remarried
  • Laity supporting priests
  • Lay-led parishes
  • Lay-led liturgies and Masses
  • Listen to one another more
  • Mass to be appealing to youth and children
  • Modernise Church teachings
  • More chaplains, youth ministers in Catholic schools
  • More formation for priests
  • More transparency and accountability regarding clergy sexual abuse
  • More welcoming parishes
  • New leadership and governance model
  • New model of Church, diocese, parish
  • Ordaining married men to be priests
  • Ordination of women
  • Outreach to all the baptised
  • Outreach to the wider community
  • Outreach to youth
  • Overseas priests
  • Parish pastoral council
  • Parishes involved in planning for the future
  • Provide more youth facilities in parishes
  • Putting Gospel values in action
  • Radical change, a new order, inverted pyramid
  • Restore the Third Rite of Reconciliation
  • Servant leadership
  • Share the faith with others
  • Special care of rural parishes
  • Stronger parish communities
  • Support same-sex marriage
  • Transparency in governance and decision-making
  • Use social media to engage people
  • Welcome back priests who have left to marry
  • Women deacons
  • Work together in unity
  • Youth to be involved more in Church community

During the past two weeks, I have attended two days of Broad-based Community Organising, and I am amazed by the synergies between the essential elements of the training and this Plenary Council theme of ‘inclusive, participatory and synodal’. Much of this training was based around relational engagement and conversations as key to the success of community organising. Many of the topics covered in this theme form the basis of community organising for the common good, e.g. inclusion, outreach, transparency, communication, etc.

And now back to where I began this week’s message, with the theme for Refugee Week, a world of stories. When we sit to determine “How God is calling us to be a Christ centred Church……”, we are being invited to share our world of stories, to listen deeply to each other and to what the Spirit is saying, in our parishes, diocese, nation and universal church. As we begin phase 2 in preparing for the Plenary Council, the Listening and Discernment process, I hope we are prepared and willing to listen respectfully to people’s stories and insights, because this is the sacred place of discernment, along with contemplation of our scriptures and tradition.

I have chosen to finish this week’s message with the following prayer for refugees:

God of our Wandering Ancestors,

Long have we known
That your heart is with the refugee:
That you were born into time
In a family of refugees
Fleeing violence in their homeland,
Who then gathered up their hungry child
And fled into alien country.

Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages:
“Will you let me in?”

Give us hearts that break open
When our brothers and sisters turn to us with that same cry.
Then surely all these things will follow:
Ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices.
Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat.
Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate.
And hands will reach out—
working for peace in their homeland, working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven.

Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.
May they find a friend in me
And so make me worthy
Of the refuge I have found in you.


Follow mnnews.today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.