The first General Assembly of the 5th Plenary Council of Australia took place from Sunday 3rd October and concluded with a Mass on Sunday, the 10th of October.
What I took away from the Plenary Council was that all the members were very honest and open in listening to one another with a deep trust in discerning how the Holy Spirit was at work throughout the week. Spiritual conversation allowed members to voice their concerns for and with the Church. The members are people with passion, who have and are continuing to contribute to the life of the Church in Australia.
As a member of the Plenary Council, I was incredibly pleased with the process of the Council. What was special and significant about this Plenary Council was the inclusivity of all the members: there were bishops, priests, religious as well as the laity, both young and old represented. This is a positive sign for the Australian Church – a sign of hope. Members had the opportunity to share their own experiences, background, context, ideas, as well as hopes and dreams for the Church in Australia.
The six themes that formed the agenda were taken seriously by each group, in depth and with few issues left untouched. Members were able to speak openly without fear or judgement. It seemed that members listened deeply to each other with respect and an attentive ear.
The whole week was a spiritual journey for me. I am grateful to the Plenary Council for the insightfulness and depth in the sharing; for the wisdom imparted by members and the respect we had for each other in our great diversity; for the sharing of rich spiritual experiences and the wonderful spiritual journey of the week.
Before attending the Plenary Council, I heard criticisms that the direction and agenda had already been settled. I was skeptical before entering the Plenary Council; however, there was no one dictating or directing how the Plenary Council took place. There was no faction or a majority pushing their own agenda. We were open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit from the start and the Spirit led us to the end. There were moments during our small group sharing when we did get off track; however, members in the group were able to remind us to listen deeply to what the Spirit was drawing us toward. We were able to refocus and allow the spirit to guide us. This was God working through each of us. The spiritual conversation enabled us to reach a consensus each day and achieve communal discernment together.
It was a blessed week for me, and I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Plenary Council. I appreciated the openness and readiness of all the members to engage in it fully and wholeheartedly. “We have walked together these past few days,” as Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SBD said in his closing speech. This journey of walking together has shown us how “synodality” works. We are not walking alone, or only with those who are like us, but with others toward the Kingdom of God, together as God’s people.