The NPPN Executive serves the National Pastoral Planners Network whose purpose is to promote and strengthen a culture of planning for mission and evangelisation within the Catholic Church in Oceania. We engage pastoral research and best practices in church growth to offer experience, knowledge, resources and processes that enable dioceses and parishes to advance the mission of Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Spirit.
A Work in Progress
At the opening of a recent Port Pirie Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting we prayed, “Give us patience with partial plans and fragments of the future, glimpsed imperfectly in hopeful words”. That prayer seemed to resonate with the sentiments of the council members and name our current reality. Indeed our plans are partial and while we see only glimpses of future pathways, our words are hopeful.
Taking up the challenge of turning those hopeful words into action in implementing our Diocesan Plan has led us to identify some basic principles. They have become almost mantras: It’s all about relationships. There is no one size fits all. We will proceed by project. It is a work in progress.
While no scientific evaluation has been conducted to prove progress, two diocesan projects give clear testimony to ‘work in progress.’
Opening of the Jubilee Year of mercy – Opening Doors of Mercy
Traditionally, a Holy Door has been used by the Church as a universal sign of welcome, of change and of leaving the past behind. To mark the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on 8th December 2015, Pope Francis asked that every cathedral in the world, every Mother Church of a diocese, have its special Holy Door opening ceremony. In our diocese we wanted to spread that further, asking each of our parishes to look at some way of marking the event of the Jubilee Year with the opening of the Holy Door in their parish church. Instructions from Bishop Greg O’Kelly were – We don’t need a new door to be knocked in! Just take one of the present doors and decorate it for the occasion. That invitation was taken up with enthusiasm and creativity. No one size fits all to be sure!
All of our schools were asked to do the same at the beginning of the school year in February. The children were invited to go through their own “Holy Door” to usher in a New Year, a Holy Year, and become “ambassadors of mercy”.
‘A merciful response to the cry of the earth’ – A Tree Planting Project
Again in response to the call of Pope Francis, we have developed a diocesan project with an invitation to create a Memorial for the Year of Mercy. The Diocesan Pastoral Council pondered two questions: What memorial would we create? What collaborative action would we take? It was acknowledged that across the diocese the good works of mercy and services to the poor are here in abundance, and in many cases new projects are already underway. The provisos in selecting the project were: It must be doable, inclusive and cost next to nothing!
In the spirit of “Caring for our Common Home” (Laudato Si), as well as ‘hearing the cry of the poor’ we agreed we should also ‘hear the cry of earth’ (LS 49). In this way we can make an effort to redress the destruction of habitat that continues to drastically reduce plant and animal diversity within our eco-system.
Parishes, church agencies, schools, communities, families within the diocese have been invited to plant a tree or trees (or an avenue or a woodlot) as a Memorial of the Year of Mercy. The call is to select and prepare a site and a tree or trees appropriate to the local area, have enough persons to ensure it is nurtured and watered until it is established over this autumn and winter period and especially during summers for 2-3 years. The idea is to have community involvement and for it not to be left to the parish priest to ensure the survival of the tree for instance!
The invitation was taken up within hours of circulation by Centacare Ceduna. A liturgical ceremony will be held on or around the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy on 24th September. By then it is hoped that the trees will be exhibiting a degree of established independence.
A new road is emerging. Pope Francis reminds us, “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent”.
Flowing from our Tree Planting Project has come the realisation that there is a decided omission in our Pastoral Plan. We see there is need to add a new Strategic Direction to our Plan – a Number Eight – Care for Our Common Home. Councils, parishes, agencies, schools, and ministries will be invited to explore strategies and processes that may assist in converting these hopeful words into grassroots action.
And we continue to pray: Help us to sense your Spirit, drawing us to the future, even if it takes us away from our own plans and projects. Progress? Unknown. Work in progress? Definitely.
Sr Sonia Wagner SGS
Bishop’s Assistant for Pastoral Ministry, Diocese of Port Pirie