The conclusion of the Second Assembly of the Plenary Council journey, was celebrated with Eucharist at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on Saturday 9 July 2022.
The 270 members who participated in this week-long event, left with hope-filled hearts knowing that they have been part of a historic moment in the life of the Church in Australia. Others joined in this week through livestream or followed social media events such as Plenary Tracker and Plenary Matters. Most importantly were the thousands of people who supported the members through prayer.
On arriving and collecting our Plenary bags, we all discovered a personal letter of support and encouragement from a member of the Church community from different parts of the country. Another moving touch was on the night of the final dinner each person arrived at their place to discover a hand drawn and laminated placemat created and crafted by a student from one of the Catholic schools in Australia. Mine was designed by a student from St Phillip Neri School in Northbridge, New South Wales.
Some of the highlights for me included:
- The interweaving of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait spirituality and story that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people opened for us.
- The morning prayer reflections prepared by the Liturgy and Reflection Team which set the scene for each day.
- Meeting face-to-face with people we had only met online.
- The gift of the small table groups – mine included: two Bishops, one priest, one Provincial, a representative from St Vincent de Paul, Director of Mission from Loretta College, Ballarat, a Canon Lawyer currently teaching at ACU and a member from Toowoomba diocese. Each morning we spent a session in spiritual conversations on the main topics of the day.
- The overall vibrancy of the group – women who are the cornerstone of their remote and rural communities, farmers, people from a variety of cultures, university professors, teachers, priests, bishops, young and old people from all walks of life serving in a variety of ministries both within and beyond church communities. There was a lot of sharing and connecting happened during our breaks
- The power of hearing the stories and experiences of so many across dioceses. A particular delight was the number of people who approached me to share about the influence of the Josephites on their lives.
- Engaging with the Paschal journey aspects of people as we listened to the joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams of the assembled people of God.
No doubt many of you read or heard about the particularly difficult and challenging day we shared around ‘Witnessing to the Dignity of Women and Men’ as it became apparent that the question of women’s role seemed to have disappeared. The small table of which I was a member, reflected that we would look back on this moment as a graced moment. It called the group to enter into deeper discernment attentive to the Spirit who was moving among us like a mighty wind. The final rewritten document was received and honoured by the Members on the final day.
The Plenary was a rich experience of the diverse people of God that are part of the communion and mission of the Church. There were differences of theology, of understanding and experiences which all added to the richness of the experience.
Overall, there was a deep sense of commitment by all the members of the Assembly. Many had participated in a variety of activities prior to the Assembly. They brought with them the hopes and dreams of the people they had met along the journey.
We were blessed with a double portion of Mary MacKillop’s spirit as we gathered for the opening Eucharist at the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel in North Sydney. Mary’s courage and compassion accompanied us over these days. In our moments of struggle, I felt her presence reminding me to ‘be calm and full of hope’. In the end, Mary MacKillop’s presence reassured me that we had done all we could with the time and commitment we had and now it was time to simply entrust the next steps of the journey calmly to God.
You might like to read the Concluding Statement from the second assembly here and listen to an episode of the Plenary Podcast in which I participated here. For further reading, find a reflection by Christopher Lamb (The Tablet Vatican Correspondent) here.
Sr Monica Cavanagh
Congregational Leader and Plenary Council Member