How might we accompany one another on the journey of personal and communal conversion which mission in Australia requires?
With the upcoming First Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia looking to consider how we enter into a spirit of conversion, the question also begs answers in relation to living with the COVID-19 pandemic, ministering to our indigenous brothers and sisters and healing the wounds of abuse.
Executive Director of Evangelisation for the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Deacon Peter Pellicaan, recently discussed the issue of conversion with regards to the agenda of the Plenary Council.
Conversion, he said, must begin with love.
“If we are to walk a journey of personal and communal conversion, we must develop a deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God, which leads to deep and personal relationships with each other,” he said.
The issue of Conversion invites Members to think about the wounds of abuse, discipleship, mission and meeting the needs of our most vulnerable community members.
He said while only God can heal these wounds, any initiative towards healing must be informed by those who are the victims.
“We must listen to those who have lived through this horror, we must be willing to perpetually say sorry and perpetually ask for forgiveness, and we must ask what victims themselves think would be helpful for us to rebuild trust and restore their relationship with the Church. But we can’t just ‘listen’ we must then act!”
In mission, Deacon Pellicaan said all baptised members of the Church are called to the mission of the Church.
“We cannot just send off a religious order to live among the most vulnerable and do works of charity. If we are baptised, if we are Catholic, we are responsible and obligated to reach every person as everyone matters to God and therefore, must matter to us.”
As we contemplate how to partner with others to be missionaries in contemporary Australia, Deacon Pellicaan said we must move beyond categorisations – dropping labels and welcoming people of all faiths, persuasions, and situations to join in efforts toward the common good of all.
“While some are called to mission overseas or in remote area, all are called to mission wherever they are,” he said.
The Plenary Council has also called for us to respond to the call of ‘ecological conversion’ – defined as one which recognises that human dignity and the care of the earth are very much related.
“The Pope’s text (Laudato si) brings to our attention the fact that our beautiful theology of human dignity is very much integrated with our theology of the care of creation. This means that our efforts to promote human dignity must be matched by our efforts to care for creation.”
Deacon Pellicaan said that during this time of the pandemic, many continue to be locked down and isolated from the body of the church and communities, forcing a change of mode to ministry with online worship.
“Lockdowns have made our usual mode of ministry very difficult. Our mission in these times must pivot toward giving the faithful the tools to experience God wherever they are.
“We must focus on how to pray, how to read and reflect on scripture, how to grow deeper in faith even when the sacraments are not available, and how to go on mission – to care for others – how to love in these moments of isolation.
“All Christian traditions are struggling with the pandemic, and many are reporting a large decline in attendance after lockdowns have been lifted.
“It is changing our habits, and those who came to church out of habit alone, will struggle to return. It’s also given people the experience of not coming to church – which then leads to reflecting on what difference it made.”
He said if the Plenary Council doesn’t draw us back to the mission of the Church, it will have been a waste of time and we will not have listened to the Holy Spirit.
“The “mission” is what God is doing, and therefore what God wants to do through us. There is no single strategy that can be the ‘silver bullet’ to fix our situation. Rather it’s measuring all that we do in light of our mission,” he said.
“We must have courage to address anything that is not actively contributing to our mission and either make it missional, or simply stop doing it. That takes courage, but it will also make a massive difference.”