Rockhampton (Queensland) continues to underline its well-deserved reputation as one of Australia's most 'progressive' Catholic dioceses, as priestly numbers and practice of the faith continue to decline.
The retiring age for priests is set at 70, instead of the usual 75 elsewhere, numbers have resigned from the active priesthood in recent years, suggestions that priests from overseas be invited into the diocese to make up the shortfall are rejected and priestly vocations for the diocese remain almost non-existent.
All the while, Rockhampton's small army of church professionals remains tireless in setting up conferences, meetings, discussion groups and workshops on the future of the local Church.
In a document released in May 2000 titled Diocesan Future Staffing and Shaping, Bishop Brian Heenan reminded Rockhampton's Catholics of the on-going follow-up to an earlier document Building Our Future Together with its strategies for, among other things, coping with reduced priestly numbers. A "Diocesan Future Staffing and Shaping Task Force" had been conducting numerous meetings and discussions throughout the diocese and was "working through the feedback collected via Regional Gatherings."
Some of this feedback included affirmations that "Faith is not priest- centered", changes should be accepted, "We are the Church," "Community is the heart of our Church and faith," people should be trained for lay ministry and there should be "ongoing education of parish communities."
The diocese's spiritual flavour was evident to some extent during the Rockhampton Diocesan Conference held between 10-13 July. Capturing something of the Olympic spirit, it was titled: "Carrying the Flame: Healing, Grieving, New Beginnings." According to its all-female team of Adult Faith Co-ordinators, the conference was "a result of the successful Burning Bush Conference 1999" whose "sparks" had "inspired our Bishop to invite Diocesan Adult Faith Education and Formation" to plan another conference.
Fr Cyril Hally - "at the cutting edge of mission developments throughout the world" and with "special interests" in "cultural anthropology, mission history, peace studies and the social teachings of the Church" - delivered several keynote addresses. And aside from "lively liturgies, music, BBQs, mini- Olympics, street theatre, concerts and eucharistic celebrations" there was a veritable cornucopia of 56 workshops with women religious prominent among the presenters.
Below is a sampling of the workshop topics. The Pope, Our Lady, the Statement of Conclusions or the new Catechism might not have managed a look-in, but Greens, New Agers and feminists would have been more than satisfied.
* Bush/Creation Spirituality: "We will use our senses as we walk and sit quietly in the leafy surrounds of St Brendan's to link us with the Divine in and around us ...".
* Aboriginal Spirituality: "Taking you through a Spirituality Journey of recognising Christ speaking to you through His creation and carrying His flame to one another and one self."
* From Dirty hands to Sacred memories in your own Garden!: "Ritualising the memories of your life's journey by planning and creating your own Sacred Garden. Through reflection and focusing on the earth-directions, North, South, East and West, and connecting with one of the elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water, the flow of life's energies will also be recognised in your plan ...".
* A Holistic experience of God through Exercise and Massage: "There will be two reflective, experiential prayer sessions. The first session, led by Sr Vera, is designed to raise awareness of the importance of preparing the body and mind to meet the challenges we face as baptised, confirmed Christians. The second, led by Sr Regina, is intended to release tensions acquired in everyday living. It opens heart, mind, body and spirit to the voice of God through massage ...".
* Celtic Spirituality: "The experience of the practice of Celtic spirituality within a prayer context."
* Waiting on the Spirit: "To meet in silence, waiting for the Holy Spirit to move our hearts. Some may be led to express their experience in words or song."
* Equality in Relationships: "Participants in this workshop will be invited to explore a movement away from the ethics of power and control to equality in relationship by reflecting on the voices that are privileged in our society and how these voices attempt to restrain and oppress others. The workshop will offer an opportunity to discuss ways in which we can foster non-hierarchical and non- patronising relationships."
* Self Esteem: "An enjoyable space in time to help us release that 'giftedness' that we are so that we can experience refreshment in ministry and being. Using our gifts is worthwhile; enjoying them is special."
* Leading the Prayer of God's People: "This workshop explores the skills of liturgy and occasions when lay people are called to lead communal prayer A spirituality of leading prayer will be the foundation of this workshop."
* A Child of the Universe: "In these times of rapid changes, the Universe can offer some advice in the choices we have to make. In this workshop there will be time to reflect on our lives and our relationships and to learn from the Universe so that we will be wise leaders."
The feminine touch was well to the fore, with women constituting around three-quarters of workshop presenters.