Pope Francis has sent greetings and blessings from Rome as the program for the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, the first such event in this country in 84 years, began today.
A message read out during the opening plenary session this morning said the Plenary Council “represents a singular ‘journeying together’ of God’s people in Australia along the paths of history towards a renewed encounter with the Risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
The message, read by Msgr John Baptist Itaruma from the Apostolic Nunciature in Australia, said Pope Francis “prays that the Council may be a graced occasion for mutual listening and spiritual discernment, marked by profound Communion with the Successor of Peter”, a term used to describe the Pope.
“In this conciliar process, the Church in Australia is challenged to listen to the voice of the Spirit and to bear witness to the perennial truth of the Gospel and to develop new and creative expressions of evangelical charity,” said the message, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, in a message to Pope Francis said the Council’s 278 members are “deeply conscious that the Plenary Council takes its place within the universal Church”.
Archbishop Coleridge continued: “Our ardent hope is that the Plenary Council will be a gift not just for the Church in Australia but for the Church around the world.
“Pope St John Paul II described the Second Vatican Council as ‘the great grace given to the Church in the twentieth century’ (Novo Millennio Ineunte). For us, the Plenary Council is the great grace given to the Church in Australia at the dawn of the twenty-first century.”
The exchange of messages between the Holy See and the Church in Australia followed an opening address from Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB.
Archbishop Costelloe, who yesterday inaugurated the Council by celebrating the opening Mass, welcomed the members, as well as a number of Catholic leaders from Pacific and Asian countries, as well as the president of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Drawing from St Paul and the writings of Pope Francis, Archbishop Costelloe laid out the important task the Council’s members are undertaking.
“As today as we take this bold and crucial step forward in our own response to the call for the Church’s transformation we can be inspired and encouraged by the energy, persistence, creativity and fidelity of Saint Paul and by the dream of Pope Francis whose words have helped inspire and shape the agenda which will guide us through the days ahead,” he said.
Archbishop Costelloe acknowledged that members would likely be coming with “high hopes”, “great expectations”, but also “conscious of the heavy responsibility we bear”.
“In the mysterious ways of God’s providence, it is we who have been called together to undertake this historic and grace-filled task on behalf of the whole Catholic community of our nation,” he said.
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Our diocesan logo is theologically rich and very succinct. As a hand, it depicts our mission as a diocese and as individuals within the diocese, of bearing (bringing, carrying) Christ’s love to one another and to the world around us. In this, we are the hand of Jesus Christ, and we are offering ourselves to him so that he might work through us.
We can be the bearers of his love only as a response to his call and in the strength of his grace. We are reminded of this in two ways—through the symbol of the dove (the Holy Spirit) also present in the logo, and by the incorporation of the cross that segments the logo. The presence of the cross is a reminder that bearing the love of Christ will inevitably cost us if we live it authentically. However, in the way that the Cross is the portent of redemption and life—an echo of the tree of life in the book of Genesis—so becoming bearers of the love of Christ will also bring us to life.
The four fingers of the hand also represent the four regions of our diocese. The first is bluerepresenting the beautiful water of the Shoalhaven. The second is a blue and green combination representing the waters and escarpment of the Illawarra. The third is greendepicting the hills and plains of the Macarthur. The fourth is dark green illustrating the forests of the Southern Highlands.