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Towards our Diocesan Pastoral Plan - Interim Report, September 2012


Originally published in Catholic Outlook September 2012

A word from Bishop Anthony

Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP.

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the latest update regarding our pastoral planning process Faith in Our Future.

I wish to extend my deepest thanks and gratitude to the large number of people (1400 so far) who have participated in our parish consultations, as well as all the agencies and individuals who’ve made submissions in writing or online.

Planning for the faith and life of the Church in our part of the world is our common responsibility and I have been greatly buoyed by your enthusiasm for this task and your passionate and thoughtful contributions.

In this Year of Grace in Australia I think we can point to our pastoral planning as a tangible example of the grace of God working among our people.

This month’s Faith in Our Future update identifies a number of strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for our Diocese. I’m very pleased to hear that so many parishioners are actively engaged in the life of our parishes, particularly with various ministries of worship and service, through our schools and sacramental programs, with youth activities in the lead up to World Youth Day, and through the ‘ordinary’ life of families and parishes.

While we all like to hear such good news, it is helpful at this stage to reflect upon and understand our challenges as well. These will suggest some new directions for us as we seek to build on what’s best and identify new gifts and opportunities.

A growing concern, not only in our Diocese but around the world, is trying to find new ways to reach out to the disengaged – in our case the five out of six who do not attend Mass regularly.

Retaining and strengthening the connection of children and young adults to family and parish life are crucial to our future. Though there is no ‘magic formula’, you have provided lots of insights into how we might do this better.

The beautiful, reverent and welcoming celebration of the sacraments, the proclamation and study of the Scripture and tradition, and works of outreach to the marginalised, all stand out as areas where we are doing well but could do better. The Eucharist, in particular, is the font from which the Church draws her life and the Diocese of Parramatta is no exception!

Though our consultations continue, our pastoral planning team is hard at work collating and analysing all the material received, combining this with the best statistical information we have from the national census and the Church Life Surveys, from the observations of our pastors and other sources.

This will give us a realistic picture of where we are as the Church in Western Sydney and where we might hope to be in the future with good planning, the efforts of our people and above all the graces we implore from God.

As we pass the ¾ mark of the consultation phase, we are all very much looking forward to the development of the recommendations over the next six months or so.

I encourage anyone who has not yet had their say to take part in the remaining consultations – details are available on the website: 

Please join me in praying for wisdom as we take this process forward so that we are really contemplating the face of Christ, putting out into the deep with Him, and taking the directions He wants for His Church here in Parramatta.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

(Most Rev) Anthony Fisher OP

Bishop of Parramatta

Pastoral Planning Update

Faith in Our Future Consultation Winston Hills
Consultation at St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills.
Photo: Monique O’Callaghan.

As of late August 2012, about 1400 people have participated in 24 parish consultation sessions, taking in 42 parish communities. There are four consultation sessions remaining. Of all participants to date, 58% have been female and 42% have been male.

There have been 80 online submissions via the diocesan pastoral planning website and 833 subscriptions to the Faith in Our Future blog and news service. The website attracts an average of 174 visitors per week.

A total of 16 ethnic communities have been consulted with each community asked to identify ways in which the Diocese can better support the needs of their community as well as how their community can better support and share in the life of our parishes and wider community.

The seven deaneries within the Diocese have been asked to report on potential pastoral initiatives specific to their region while the Episcopal Vicar for Clergy and the Diocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue are currently developing recommendations towards the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

The CEO Quality Catholic Schooling (QCS) project survey included questions focused on the importance and expression of Catholic culture in our schools. The survey was offered to all school staff, 30 students per year group (Years 5-12) per school, and 60 parents (randomly selected) per school. In total, 3186 staff participated (80.4%), 10,072 students (93.7% of those invited) as well as 2557 parents (54.5% of those invited).

The declared ‘importance’ of being at a Catholic school, participating in prayer at school, celebrating school liturgies and Mass, and reflecting on faith in the school was higher in our Diocese than the national average across all three surveyed sets (staff, students and parents).

The survey also confirmed the influence of teachers in the importance that students attach to these activities, with a high correlation between the two groups. It also suggests that if teachers attribute importance to their involvement in a local Catholic parish, the more opportunities students feel they have to reflect on faith, pray together, celebrate liturgies and the sacraments in the school.   

The Parent Representative Council (PRC) has also been consulted with submissions received concerning practical initiatives to support the engagement of Catholic school parents with the faith. There is a commitment to ongoing collaboration between the PRC and the Diocese in its outreach to parents within the Catholic schools system.

The consultation feedback gathered from the aforementioned stakeholders will impact on the work of diocesan agencies over the term of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan (2014-18). All 12 diocesan agencies have been asked to respond to the pastoral priorities and emerging needs identified through the consultation process. Time has been set aside for a review of these submissions and ongoing refinement.

It is envisaged that a first draft of recommendations for the Diocesan Pastoral Plan will be underway by the end of 2012 with further revision continuing into the first months of 2013. Following this, the canonical and financial implications of proposed actions will be considered before episcopal approval and the release of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, which is envisaged to take place in the second half of 2013.

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Summary of community feedback

Provided below is an updated summary of the perceived strengths, weaknesses and opportunities identified by the 34 parish communities consulted to date. The aggregated responses of the past three months largely build upon the themes identified in the first interim report released in May 2012.

Areas of strength identified

  • Many parishioners actively engaged in the life of our parishes
  • Provision and support of youth activities, especially World Youth Days
  • The Catholic school system
  • The integration of migrant children into our schools
  • Strong participation in sacramental programs
  • Children’s liturgies
  • The affirmation of family life as valuable
  • The availability of faith formation opportunities for laity
  • The support of our priests and seminarians
  • The continuing commitment to RCIA
  • Strong ministry of SRE catechists in the state school system
  • The charitable works of CatholicCare Parramatta and St Vincent de Paul

Areas of weakness identified

  • The missing 85%; how to reach out to the disengaged?
  • Difficulty in retaining young people’s engagement with the Church, particularly liturgy
  • Weak connections with families post-baptism; pressures on families
  • Lack of consistency in welcoming newcomers to parish communities
  • Lack of integration and sense of common mission between parish groups
  • Weak faith connections between schools and parishes
  • Poor faith engagement with parents through schools
  • Sustaining connections post-RCIA
  • Declining number/ageing of priests and religious
  • A decline in the practice of home visitation
  • Inconsistent support for newly arrived overseas priests and destination communities
  • Lack of knowledge, understanding of various ethnic cultures within the Diocese
  • Scarcity of mothers’ groups, support for parents with children under school age 
  • The challenge of inviting new people into ministry and the renewal of ministries
  • Lack of knowledge in the area of Scripture and other areas of Catholic Faith

Areas of opportunity identified 

  • To support families better by a more focused effort, e.g. a Family and Life Office or similar
  • To establish ongoing connections and communication with families in the parish
  • To provide better support for new and established married couples
  • To better respond to the needs of the elderly and housebound as members of faith communities 
  • To promote and communicate more effectively about existing and emerging groups, programs and services already on offer throughout the Diocese and within deaneries
  • To cultivate prayer experiences and community outside the context of Mass
  • To improve the quality of liturgies to foster engagement 
  • To provide adequate acculturation programs for newly arrived overseas priests
  •  To create more opportunities for youth to participate in ministry and mission
  • To increase the study of Scripture and familiarity with the Catholic tradition, including methods and styles of prayer 
  • To expand vocations promotion and the Parramatta seminary
  • To provide more information about and support for the Permanent Diaconate
  • To provide good and welcome ‘entry level’ resources and experiences for the ‘unchurched’ or inquiring
  • To engage emerging technologies to share and teach our traditions
  • To share liturgies, programs and resources across parishes where appropriate, collaborating better with adjoining parishes on many levels, e.g. youth Masses, RCIA
  • To provide formation for lay men and women in the theology and practice of evangelisation, e.g. courses and retreats
  • To focus on the New Evangelisation of disconnected Catholics and others

From the pastoral planning team

Faith in Our Future logo

Fr Paul Marshall EV and Daniel Ang

The responses from the second series of parish consultations have remained relatively consistent with those gathered from the initial eight consultation sessions. This is also true of the most recent online submissions, which reinforce prevailing concerns.

New areas of opportunity identified by recent participants include the potential for the increased promotion and expansion of the Permanent Diaconate, the need to sustain connections with participants of the RCIA following baptism, and the need for sufficient acculturation of newly arrived international priests ministering in parish communities.

The need to better promote pastoral initiatives in the parish and those offered by the Diocese and its agencies remains of critical importance in encouraging participation and spiritual growth. The quality of liturgy, including homilies, remained a concern for communities while formation in the areas of Scripture and the theology and practice of evangelisation gained further support.

It has been noted that a number of opportunities identified by participants call forth diocesan support, e.g. support of the Diaconate, expansion of the seminary, a possible Family and Life Office, in collaboration with parish communities.

Other possibilities, including social events and gatherings outside the context of liturgy, can be realised more locally and immediately with appropriate parish planning, existing parish teams and resources.

In light of the feedback to date, the Diocesan Pastoral Plan will seek to engage stakeholders at multiple levels of the Church’s life, including at the level of family, parish, deanery, agency and Diocese in a shared commitment to future outreach and growth.

Recent news and updates, as well as an archive of all of our consultation sessions, are available at the Faith in Our Future pastoral planning website:

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