Communio: Stewarding a life that belongs to the Church and the world

One hundred and seventy religious women and men, representing 72 congregations from across Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, came together last month to pray, network and explore the topic of ‘Communio: Stewarding a life that belongs to the Church and the world.’

The assembly, held in Parramatta from June 17-20, was an opportunity for participants to share their dreams and hopes for their future as religious women and men in the world today. 

The assembly was led by two internationally renowned speakers, Mary Pellegrino csj, Pennsylvania-based Sister of St Joseph Baden and past president of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, USA and Rev Dr Richard Lennan, Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College, USA. Together they delivered what many attendees considered one of the best National Assemblies ever.

Mary used the Pastoral Cycle of See-Judge-Act as a framework for her presentation.  The three movements addressed Naming our Moment, Making Meaning of our Moment and Our Mission in the Moment.

“Communio, said Mary, “is the fullness of relationship, and stewardship is an act of justice in service to communio.”

Mary went on to explain that with the rapid pace of change in the world today, conflicting world views, the decline of institutions and the loss of the Church’s moral authority, it is necessary to grieve the loss of the world that we have known with clear boundaries and identity. However, she reminded the audience that Jesus’ resurrection took place in the midst of a grieving, broken community when even the appearance of new life was fearful and disorientating, but the apostles found courage and grew.

Communion with the Past: The Dynamics of Creative Fidelity was Richard’s first presentation, in which he talked about humanity’s place in history, where he challenged perceptions of tradition and discussed the imperative of change. People usually but perhaps not correctly, perceive of ‘tradition’ as ‘a heavy gold rock.’

“It is important [God-given], but carrying it is exhausting, especially when it seems to be an obstacle to creativity,” he said.

“Rejection of the new, risks paying the heavy price of losing the strength of the old … letting its substance drain away and become mummified.”

Quoting Bernard Sesboüé, Richard added, “The paradox of an authentic creative fidelity is that its desire to bring the Gospel up-to-date, responds to the desire to keep it intact.”

Over the first two days of the conference, Mary and Richard delivered a message that was immediately relevant to participants, deeply thought-provoking and life-giving.

An important part of the National Assembly was the election of the CRA President and Council members. Br Peter Carroll FMS, Provincial, Marist Brothers Australia was enthusiastically elected as the new President of CRA on Wednesday, 19 June.

Br Peter said he was deeply grateful for the leadership of his predecessor, Monica Cavanagh rsj, congregational leader of the Sisters of St Joseph. He acknowledged the task ahead, saying “Our call is to be servant leaders, particularly at this time in our Church. A gift of this community is to walk together as pilgrims of the Gospel”.

Each day was led in prayer, with music, singing and beautiful imagery providing contemplative prayer moments and reflective time to help each participant prepare their hearts and minds for the day.

Another highlight of the event was the Welcome to Country by Lex Dadd, a Senior Dharug man from the Cannemegal/Wulmarli clan of the Dharug nation. An intriguing educator, artist and storyteller, he sang traditional songs and brought life and laughter to the audience. The following days were filled by other inspiring and provocative presentations, including those by Noel Connolly ssc, Peter Gates and Jo Kenny representing the Plenary 2020 Facilitation Team, who led participants in vigorous group discussions.

Anne Lane pbvm, Chair of the CRA Emerging Futures Committee made a powerful presentation regarding the establishment of a collaborative canonical leadership structure to support religious institute members far into the future.

CRA’s National Executive Director, Anne Walker, gave a clear and concise update on the status of the  Review of the Professional Standards State and National entities, including a consideration of the current landscape, recommendations arising from the Review and next steps in the process.  

Stephanie Lorenzo of Voices of Faith presented to the women’s meeting, inviting leaders to support the campaign on “Overcoming Silence” in relation to women in leadership and decision-making roles in the Church.

The next National Assembly will be held in Melbourne from 15 to 18 June 2020. Teresa Maya ccvi and Tim Norton SVC will be keynote speakers on the topic of Interculturality.