By Matthew Lau
The 14th national ACBC eConference held landmark discussions earlier this month around the future vision and direction for the Catholic Church in Australia.
The video conference – titled “Synodality in Practice: Listening to the Spirit and Leading Change” – was filmed at the Caroline Chisholm Centre in Sydney on 1 August.
Synodality is a theological concept that Pope Francis has often referred to in his five-year papacy.
In 2015, he described it as the way in which people in the Church learn and listen to each other and take shared responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel.
Organised by the Broken Bay Institute’s Australian Institute of Theological Education (BBI-TAITE), the recording of this year’s Synodality eConference was made available for viewing by the public for two weeks.
This year’s speakers were: Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Plenary Council Facilitator Lana Turvey-Collins, Professor Massimo Faggioli, Dr Gemma Cruz, and Professor Richard Lennan.
Drawing on fresh insights from Pope Francis’ vision of synodality, the speakers’ messages touched on models of leadership in the contemporary Church – examining how the upcoming Plenary Council may help promote a more inclusive and dialogical Church.
Archbishop Coleridge, Chair of the Bishops Commission for the 2020 Plenary Council, spoke on the topic of “Leaders that Listen: Synodality in Practice”.
“The word ‘synodality’ does not occur at any point of Vatican II, but it does go back to the heart of the vision of the Church,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“[The] process of discernment must always be an experience of ‘real prayer’. That’s where the journey of the Plenary Council has to be, above all, a journey of prayer for the whole Church – the word ‘Plenary’ means ‘everybody’.”
He identified three key requirements moving forward: open dialogue between clergy and lay faithful, mutual criticism on both sides to build up the Church, and reference to the external in the Holy Spirit.
“The wound of sin will always make synodality hard, but the healing of grace will always make it not only possible, but even joyful as we take the road together.
“Educating ourselves, as Pope Francis says, in the patience of God and His time: this is what the Spirit is saying to the Church at this time. This is, I think, the kairos of God,” Archbishop Coleridge concluded.
Ms Turvey-Collins’ focus was on “Synodality in Practice – Preparing for the Australian Plenary Council.”
“We are in a very different time now in 2018 than the last time we held a Plenary Council, which was in 1937. Pope Francis talks about this as not just changing times, but actually a change of era,” Ms Turvey-Collins said.
“We have come through a stage where the Royal Commission has been incredibly humbling and we are in need in our Church a renewal of customs, practices, refreshing ways of seeing leadership and possibility that renews our culture throughout all layers and parts of our community of the Church.”
Prof Faggioli, who lectures in Historical Theology at Villanova University, Philadelphia, highlighted the “Structures of Synodality: Insights from Pope Francis”.
Dr Cruz, School of Theology Senior Lecturer at Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Religion and Critical Inquiry, spoke about “Synodality, Community and the Margins”.
“The only way is to listen to the Spirit; if we don’t listen to the Spirit, then shame on us,” she proclaimed.
Prof Lennan, who teaches Systematic Theology at the School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College, was the final speaker on the topic of “Change and the Church’s Tradition” and cited article 173 of Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate, making reference to “the eternal newness of God”.
The panel question and answer session was facilitated by Noel Debien of ABC Radio’s Religion and Ethics Unit.
An eConference DVD will be produced and made available for purchase at $29.95 (including free postage within Australia).
For more information, visit: www.bbi.catholic.edu.au