The first of two gathering sessions for the Plenary Council is soon upon us. It is the first such gathering in Australia in 80 years, and distinctive because of the greater participation of lay people. We have asked various community members to share with you their thoughts on the upcoming Plenary Council, and why each of the different themes are such an important consideration for the church at this time.
Vanessa Comninos shares her thoughts on prayer – how might we better embrace the diverse liturgical traditions of the Churches which make the Catholic Church and the cultural gifts of immigrant communities to enrich the spirituality and worship of the Church in Australia?
I would like to start this reflection on the Plenary Council discussion question by sharing this heartfelt quotation from Pope Francis,
“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” – Evangelii Gaudium 27
Pope Francis is reminding us that at the centre of the Christian life is the person of Jesus Christ and everything that we do, as believers, should lead us to a meaningful and personal relationship with Him. After having experienced this fullness of life, we have in turn been commissioned to proclaim Jesus to others. This is at the heart of evangelisation: the sharing of the Good News which has no boundaries and rises above races and cultures.
The Catholic Church in Australia has always been fundamentally multicultural: we come together as people from different cultural backgrounds, with our own customs, languages and ways of doing things.
A quick historical overview tells us that migration flows that settled in Australia brought with themselves the deposit of their own faith experience and their worshipping traditions, identified with a specific cultural background into an already existing and rich culture of the Indigenous people. This inculturation has often been challenging and it is still in the making.
Today, we come together, in all our diversity as a Church, to the summit of the worshipping life which is the Eucharist. The Evangelist Luke tells us that: “People will come from the East and West, North and South, and will take their places in the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). In many ways our coming together to celebrate the Eucharist as one people of God, foreshadows this reality of the Kingdom to come where God the Father will be all in all.
I am reminded of the divine appointment set up between Cornelius and Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. Shortly before the encounter, Peter had a vision of a great sheet filled with all kinds of animals to eat and he heard God’s voice saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). The Church is like the linen sheet, filled with all races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds where we all come together to be one in Christ Jesus. When Peter understood this, he proclaimed: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10: 34-35).
The composition of my own church community is a multicultural congregation filled with beautiful and deeply faithful people. What is it that makes us one community, which celebrates diversity in unity and not in segregation? I believe that it has come from a place of love and respect of each other’s stories. We see each person in the image of God with a life journey to be appreciated for its multitude of experiences, practices, traditions and hopes. We find our sense of belonging, refuge, and identity in our Catholic community as we come to worship as one body.
However, sometimes the journey can be hard; many parishes, including my own, are still experiencing barriers despite our best efforts of abandoning our preferences and embracing a greater diversification of Christian life and practices. No culture is deemed to be unfailingly Christian, and we are constantly called to conversion and renewal as we seek to live as healthy parishes. In my context, we have found a wonderful opportunity, beside the Eucharist, in our small Connect Groups to engage in the human phenomenon of individual experiences and cultures by sharing food, our stories and day to day lives.
As an immigrant myself, many times over, loving communities are the ones where transformative experiences are expressed in action by being welcoming to those who are on the “outside.” The “outside” could include immigrants of course but also those who are different to the social norm, the despised, the sick, those who are part of a misunderstood minority or a stranger. It is this missionary impulse of welcoming and loving people in the spirit of intentionally listening to them that will create trust to open their hearts and share their gifts. Then, I believe, we begin to be the Church that God wants us to be; our liturgies and our worship become a sincere expression and manifestation of who we are as a “communion in diversity,” the Body of Christ of which you and I are members.