On his installation as fourth Bishop of the Eparchy of Australia, Bishop Antoine Charbel Tarabay set out seven pastoral priorities. The seventh priority was to hold a Diocesan Synod, for Canonical reasons, perhaps better termed a Diocesan Assembly.
Bishop Tarabay at the time of announcing his priorities explained the purpose of the Assembly:
“This will further study the needs of our people and our Eparchy. It will make recommendations on many issues, including how to implement the relevant conclusions of the Maronite Patriarchal Synod. It will review all of the projects I have mentioned to you (the other six priorities), and will facilitate their improvement and continuation, while preparing the new initiatives which will arise as needed.”
The Assembly is consistent with Pope Francis’ calls for a Synodal Church. Pope Francis explained:
“A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”.(12) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).”
Perhaps no one has put it more beautifully than Cardinal Blasé Cupich who explains about the role of Bishops;
Our responsibility to teach is tethered and co-equal to our responsibility to listen and learn, so that we can benefit from the wisdom of those we serve. To be clear this listening to each other is more than a matter of being attentive to the thoughts, convictions, and opinions of other people. Rather, we listen to each other to discern where God is leading the Church. Because of our faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, in listening to each other, we are also listening to the Lord who works in them and through them. As a result, in addition to being an ecclesia docens (a teaching Church) and an ecclesia discens (a learning Church), as Pope Francis tells us, we are also an ecclesia discernens (a discerning Church).
Bishop Tarabay has genuinely embraced Pope Francis’ invitation for a Synodal Church. The Assembly will also prove important in the context of the wider Plenary Council planned for 2020 for the entire Australian Catholic Church.
Preparations for the Assembly have been underway for some time and the preparatory committee has been made up of a diverse group including Bishop Tarabay, clergy, religious and laity from the Parishes. The committee represents a vast array of Maronite experiences. The process of listening and preparation has begun with the issuing of a Diocesan survey and through prayer. There has been a large response to the survey and the preliminary results are presently being collated. It has been resolved that in the coming months the time for replying to the survey will be extended and the survey will also be made available in Arabic to give more people the opportunity to participate. We will also continue praying as a Diocese for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we continue our Assembly journey.
The Assembly is not a one off event. On Saturday 25 November 2017 the first meeting of the Assembly will begin with Diocesan and Parish representatives meeting to reflect, pray and be guided by the Holy Spirit to prepare for a larger second meeting of the Assembly over three days in April 2018.
This is a journey for the entire Maronite Church in Australia and anyone who may be attracted to it. You can get involved by completing the survey (see the link below) and praying. Let us together call for the Holy Spirit to guide us on this journey of listening and discernment.