Framing the future

At the recent Jesuit Pastoral Ministry Conference, a central focus was the challenge of synodality and how best to welcome those who have not yet heard the Word of God.


By Louise Wellington, Provincial Assistant, Pastoral Ministries

“Pitching our parish tent” was the theme which framed the program for the Jesuit Pastoral Ministry Conference held in Adelaide (Kaurna lands) from June 20-21. In the words spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah (54:2), “widening the space of your tent will allow you to burst out to right and to left”. This is the challenge of synodality, how to make room for those who have not heard the Word of God. Fr Richard Lennan provided an oversight of the responsibilities of all the baptised to the mission of the church. Bishop Greg O’Kelly, Jenny O’Brien and Sarah Moffatt expanded these ideas through discussion of synodal practices within parishes for liturgy, engagement with families and the young and the role of leadership groups in the parish.

Norwood Parish hosted a visit to the local Mary MacKillop Museum, a beautiful place that commemorates Mary and the many women who followed in her mission to educate young Catholic children across Australia and New Zealand. Following a generous afternoon tea in Norwood Parish Hall, which serves as the venue for the Children’s Mass amongst many other activities, the conference delegates were treated to a session of “Show and Tell” by Jesuits and staff of Norwood Parish. The parish has rebounded from COVID restrictions and the work of many groups in the parish was presented along with a vision for the future of the Norwood site. 

Welcome to Country begins with the recognition of others – strangers – who have signaled their arrival on the local inhabitant’s land. The locals gather to learn the intentions of the strangers who are seeking safe passage to a distant destination. Advice is provided by the local people about the safest route which will not disturb sacred and private spaces, nor upset the spirits. The final step in ensuring safe passage to the strangers who have now become guests is the smoking ceremony which cloaks the travellers with the familiar scent of the local community. The common scent ensures the travellers will be recognised as locals, preventing harm by bad spirits as they journey across the land. John Lochowiak, National Chairman of NATSICC, shared this story with delegates as he outlined the role of Aboriginal parents and grandparents. The ceremony of welcome is most likely shared by grandparents who are responsible for the handing on of spirituality and wisdom to the children while their parents are busy with the provision of the necessities of life.

John Lochowiak, National Chairman of NATSICC. Photo: Sophie Marta

Like First Nations people, schools and parish communities recognise the essential role grandparents play in the passing of faith to their grandchildren. Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector of Saint Ignatius Athelstone, outlined the different ways faith is understood and practised across the generations. Julian Nguyen, Coordinator of COYYA, gave an honest appraisal of the challenges facing parishes and families as they seek to engage with the young. The Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement is active in many locations in Australia and provides a pathway for young people to move through formation programs that are age appropriate and enable an individual to become a leader within the organisation as they grow into adulthood. Similar groups exist within other migrant communities. Beyond the sacramental programs, many parishes struggle with meaningful and sustained engagement.  In Julian’s words, the world outside the parish has changed and the challenge for the parishes is to pivot and be patient as the seeds sown will take a long time to bear fruit.

Delegates departed the conference hope-filled. Astrid Jorgensen provided inspiration through the example of her work with Pub Choir – it is not about being perfect, it is about allowing people to respond to an invitation to share their gifts. Fr Frank Brennan SJ gently invited parishes to respond to the invitation of the First Nations seeking a Voice to Federal Parliament. The message of the conference acknowledged there are challenges, which our parish communities can face through the practices of discernment, allowing the Spirit to lead us into wider spaces where we can invite people to share in the mission of Christ in the world.

Delegates at Jesuit Pastoral Ministry Conference Adelaide, June 19-21. Photo: Sophie Marta

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