ROME — Pope Francis asked members of the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia to listen to one another carefully and prayerfully discern God’s call, always in communion with him and the entire Catholic Church.
As the working sessions of the council began Oct. 4, with more than 250 council members meeting online, the message from Pope Francis was read to the assembly.
“His Holiness prays that the council may be a graced occasion for mutual listening and spiritual discernment, marked by profound communion with the successor of Peter, ‘the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of both the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful,'” said the message, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who signed the message, said that through the Plenary Council, “the church in Australia is challenged to listen to the voice of the Spirit and to bear renewed witness to the perennial truth of the Gospel and to develop new and creative expressions of evangelical charity.”
The church, he said, is called to increasingly become “a home with open doors, ‘a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach.”
On behalf of the Plenary Council members, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, sent a letter back to Pope Francis, telling him, “The church in Australia is at a point when we will have to face the truth of our situation with eyes wide open and make bold decisions to ensure that the future is according to the mind and heart of Christ.”
“At a time when we are under pressure and in some ways diminished,” he wrote, “we will have to imagine and enact new ways of mission rather than retire to some self-protective world.”
Coleridge told Pope Francis that members of the council hope the process they are engaged in, which began with widespread consultation with Catholics throughout Australia, “will be a gift not just for the church in Australia but for the church around the world.”
The day’s session began with Mass marking the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
In his homily, Bishop Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst, told delegates that like St. Francis, they are called “to rebuild Christ’s church,” while responding “in a very concrete way to Pope Francis’ repeated call for us to become a more synodal church: a church committed to journeying together in reciprocal listening to one another, listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, and most importantly listening to the Holy Spirit.”
They must be “a church which gives witness to the Christian vision of community, participation, solidarity and joint responsibility,” he said. “Our council agenda makes clear that this rebuilding is our central focus: ‘As children of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the members of the fifth Plenary Council of Australia are called to develop concrete proposals to create a more missionary, Christ-centered church in Australia at this time.'”