01 Oct 2018
Blackwood community forum to discuss the big question
The Southern Cross newspaper – October 2018
By Lindy McNamara
The Blackwood parish is casting the net far and wide to hear what local community members think the Catholic Church in Australia should look like in the future.
As part of the ‘listening and dialogue’ phase in the lead up to the Plenary Council 2020, the parish is holding a community event on Monday October 29.
The Plenary Council Forum is being held at the Blackwood Community Centre, rather than at the church, to encourage more people to attend.
“We want to give all those Catholics who don’t normally go to church a chance to participate in what is a very significant event. We also want to include those who may be related to a Catholic, or in fact, anyone who is interested in the Church,” said Blackwood pastoral associate Tracey Tessitore, who is also a member of the parish’s Plenary Council team.
Plenary Council executive member Sarah Moffatt will address the forum and Blackwood parishioners will then facilitate small group discussions on the question, ‘what is God asking of us in Australia today?’ and the future of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Ms Moffatt said Blackwood was a parish that had fully embraced this first stage of preparation for the Plenary Council.
“They are doing some extraordinary work and provide a wonderful example to other parishes that may need some motivation for the ‘listening and dialogue’ phase,” she said.
Over the past four months parishioners at Blackwood’s two churches – St Paul of the Cross and Our Lady of the Way – have been making individual submissions to the Plenary, as well as meeting in small ‘Plenary chat’ groups to discuss what the Church and being a Catholic should be like in contemporary Australia.
The Plenary Council team has also encouraged existing groups to run ‘listening and dialogue’ sessions in various formats. That has included members of the Koinonai group of cancer sufferers and survivors and their partners, the parish youth group and young families attending the Mainly Music sessions expressing their views.
The Adult Faith group has undertaken a series of sessions supported by the material from the Parramatta diocese, which is available on the Plenary Council website. Participants select from a range of ways to be involved – they can inquire more deeply into one topic, browse and participate in several topics, or record stories to submit, with the help of a writer if needed.
Topics identified by group members to date include the role of women in the Church, the Church hierarchy, clerical celibacy, sexual abuse and the seal of the confessional, primacy of conscience and the distinction in some people’s minds of Church laws/God’s laws.
“We have become a relatively large group of 16 or so and it would have been difficult to address everyone’s needs. However, breaking up into smaller groups but still having the work open to everyone means we ensure engagement on different levels,” said Pauline Webster, group facilitator and member of the parish’s Plenary Council team.
Mrs Webster said another initiative that had helped to promote discussion in the community was featuring people’s comments on sticky notes on the wall of the church hall.
“It’s a simple thing to do but it has become a real talking point for the different groups who use this space,” she said.
As one of the parish’s main drivers in the journey towards Plenary 2020, Mrs Webster said she was encouraged by the number of parishioners who wanted to have their voice heard.
“As a result of this process I think in the future we are going to be different, we are going to take responsibility and we won’t be so passive. There is a significant call for lay people to be more active.”
Brian Fogarty, also a member of the parish Plenary Council team, echoed her thoughts.
“We may not have voting rights in the final 2020 determination, but we will be able to follow the consultative process right up to the recommendations made to the Bishops Conference and then we can make a judgement on what the bishops finally decide. Let’s face it, they can’t really afford to ignore us!
“Besides, this is a great opportunity for our own parish development,” he said.
Chair of the Blackwood parish council, Terry Tierney, is hoping that at least 50 people from the wider community will attend the October forum.
“Issues that are being raised in the 2020 Plenary Council would seem totally foreign to the Catholics of 1938 when the last Australian Plenary Council was held,” he said.
“Today’s laity recognise the need for new perspectives and strategies and they hope the Church hierarchy will do likewise. They realise they cannot leave it to the clergy alone to mould and develop the Church – everyone must ‘step up to the plate’.
“Our last census showed there were 2500 people in Blackwood who identified as Catholic but we only have 200 regular Mass goers, so now is the chance for all those others to have their say about the future of the Church.”