Adelaide Thomas More Centre address: The key elements of Catholic Action today

Adelaide Thomas More Centre address: The key elements of Catholic Action today

Archbishop Philip Wilson

Archbishop Wilson addresses Thomas More Centre Seminar

Archbishop Philip Wilson said that speaking out "about the proper and right values that should be reflected in the life of our society and the life of the Church" should not be left to the bishops alone. "Everybody who belongs to the Church is consecrated by Baptism and Confirmation and has a responsibility to speak out in ways that are appropriate to them."

Referring to Frederic Ozanam, founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Archbishop Wilson noted that Ozanam's vision went well beyond carrying out charitable works: "It was about intellectual and spiritual formation and bringing those elements together in the lives of those who belonged to the conferences so that they could then engage in their local community."

This vision, he said, was modern because it was about how Catholic lay people could be formed "to become engaged in the society in which they found themselves" so that their values and vision would inform the way they behaved and contribute to and influence the life of their communities.


The Archbishop outlined a number of factors that should determine the involvement of lay people in Catholic life today. These included their consecration through Baptism and Confirmation, "the vision of the Second Vatican Council," "dialogue" as set out by Pope Paul VI, ecumenism and inter-faith activities, the common good of the whole community and the Church's teaching on social justice.

At the outset, he said, the responsibility of Catholics to become involved in the world and to shape its values derived from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation: "That's where our dignity as members of the People of God and the royal priesthood of the faithful takes root in our hearts and provides us with what is necessary to be that kind of witness in the world."

This sacramental consecration also means that we should do things together since "we are constituted in our relationship with God, not as individuals but through our membership of the People of God which links us with Christ." We have to work with one another to be witnesses to Christ in the world. "That unity," he explained, "is created in us by what happens at the moment of our Baptism."

Referring to the impact of Vatican II, almost 40 years ago, Archbishop Wilson suggested we are only just beginning to assimilate the Council's vision and it could take 100 years "to see what the Holy Spirit had in mind." It was important for Catholics to go back and "re-learn what the Council taught" and "plumb it more deeply."

Turning to what he termed the principle of "dialogue" - as set out in Pope Paul VI's first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (1963) - Archbishop Wilson explained that while we are "bearers of truth" and committed to our Faith, in dealing with people of other beliefs and practices, we should avoid a superior attitude, adopt a stance of personal humility and be ready to listen. He cited St Francis de Sales who, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, had pointed out we can "achieve much more with a spoonful of honey than a barrel full of vinegar."

With this principle in mind, Catholics should be ready to form partnerships with other believers and engage in inter-faith activities.

Common good

Catholic action, he continued, should "always be oriented towards the common good of everyone - the welfare of all humanity." We should strive so that "every human being is treated with dignity and respect" from the beginning to the end of life.

The Church's theology, he said, was "designed to make us all feel uncomfortable". This was "elaborated beautifully" in "the whole pattern of papal documents on social justice", beginning with Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. And Pope John Paul II's recent Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) also shed light on the requirements for those involved in Catholic action today - "a call to the Gospel" and for local churches to be "schools of prayer."

In his social justice statement for the year 2002, the Holy Father pointed out that "there could be no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness." The Gospel call to love our enemies, said Archbishop Wilson, meant that even in dialogue about fundamental issues of right and wrong, we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. If we persist with a forgiving and kind approach, this may well have an influence - even on our enemies, who may begin to ask "why?".

On 15-16 February 2002, approximately 150 people attended the Adelaide Thomas More Centre Seminar: "Morals, Issues and Action". The newly-appointed Archbishop of Adelaide, Most Rev Philip Wilson, gave the opening address on "The Place and Importance of Catholic Action".

Also addressing the seminar were Fr John Fleming on "New Technologies - the Challenges", Anthony Krohn on "Refugees: Compassion or Bleeding Heart Folly?" Dr Toni Turnbull on "Abortion: an Update", while Anna Krohn gave a series of lectures on "The Theology of the Body".

This is the first time the Thomas More Centre has undertaken such an extensive program in Adelaide. The interest shown by both newcomers and regulars was of great encouragement for the future.

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