My dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the beginning of advent and a new liturgical year, I want to acknowledge the year that has been and point to the year ahead.

2019 has been one of weather extremes - rains bringing relief and promise initially, but becoming flood and loss; now, the year is ending with unprecedented fires and drought conditions. Floods pulled community support together magnificently and Australians gave generously, particularly from other Dioceses and Church entities. Through SVDP and the Diocese we have been able to distribute many donations but I’m well aware that people are suffering the aftermath of loss; some are still waiting on insurance and rebuilding. It is too easy to underestimate the impact of these events on people’s lives after the immediacy of the emergency has passed.

From Mid-June to early July, I joined with all the Australian Bishops in the five yearly ad limina visit to Rome -my first ad limina and, as expected, meeting with Pope Francis was a very special time. At the end of that month, Townsville Catholic Education held Mulkadee 2019, the week-long performing arts festival ofstudent workshops culminating in that final grand performance. It is a remarkable time for the students and staff involved from each of our schools, one amongst so many remarkable activities that our school communities engage in. Ignatius Park College celebrated 50 years and Ryan Catholic College 40 years.Saints Catholic College at JCU has been celebrating multiple jubilees for its various buildings, andCentacare is marking 40 years of service.

In all there have been seven major diocesan celebrations, including two ordinations (Emene Kelemete as Deacon in February and as priest in October). I express appreciation of all the hard work involved for Diocesan staff and volunteers (communities and individuals) on these occasions. We are particularly blessed by all who generously give of their gifts in liturgy, organisation, music, singing, and hospitality.

Extensive work continued in the Safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults especially in our parishes and agencies in implementing policy, procedures and training for effective safeguarding. Thank you to all who have cooperated with these developments and to volunteers who have taken the lead. Our Diocese is part of the National Redress Scheme and will continue to respond compassionately, respectfully and justly to disclosures of past or present harm.

Pastoral planning and renewal processes for parishes have been given new focus. In mid-year I identified ten Mission & Ministry Regions across the Diocese. A model of regional team ministry was commenced in August for the parishes of Charters Towers, Hughenden, Winton and Richmond. Led by Sr Carmel Pattinson sgs, the team has just completed and evaluated its first three months. I am happy with the start that has been made. In Townsville, I identified a region comprising the Cathedral and North Ward parishes and another comprising Cranbrook, Mundingburra, Gulliver and Wulguru parishes. The major development with the latter was the move to the four parishes being pastored by the three Carmelite priests whose community is based at Cranbrook. In Bowen parish, a Coordination Team has been established and a renewal process for the Parish Pastoral Council undertaken. The parish is making great efforts in taking a new direction. I thank everyone who has been involved in all these changes for their patience, cooperation and support, despite difficulties.

The timing of these changes has been triggered by a range of circumstances, including movement of priests. Four MCBS priests arrived from Kerala in January and, after six months of induction, immersion and temporary pastoral placements, received their first pastoral appointments. During the year, three international priests have left for other dioceses. Arrangements are being considered for other international priests to serve here. More significantly, we are facing serious challenges in parish viability and decline, mission and ministry sustainability and infrastructure costs, matters that must be addressed more directly in 2020.

There has been much activity in youth ministry, commencing with Mt Isa parish leading a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Panama in January and concluding with 80 young people in three groups from the Diocese (Mt Isa, Ingham and Charters Towers/Townsville) attending this month’s Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Perth. I am thankful for the support of Mt Isa in arranging such pilgrimages that are so impactful for the faith life of those who go. In addition to the ongoing operation of Young Christian Students (YCS) with secondary school students, a Diocesan Youth Ministry Support Worker was appointed to support the engagement with young people beyond the school setting, especially in the Townsville area. On the strength of 2019 a number of exciting initiatives are planned for 2020.

Another major project has been preparation for our 25 childcare operations to form a new diocesan childcare agency which will officially commence in early 2020. Exploratory work has been in train for some time and immediate preparations have been an intense focus since August.

The Plenary Council’s second phase of preparation (Listening and Discernment) is well underway. Some of you have been responding to this process and making submissions to one or more of the six National Writing Groups that have been appointed to draft initial papers on the national themes. The call for nominations to be a Plenary Council delegate will soon go out. The first session of the Council will be in October next year.

The season of Advent is a preparation for something new. Yes, we have all experienced Christmas before but Advent says to us: prepare once more, look again, ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find something new - Jesus can show himself to us in ways we have not experienced before. In a more extended sense, I’m also saying to you: get ready, not only for Christmas, but for 2020. It will be a time to focus on renewal of our mission as a local Church and as parishes in particular. I want to initiate processes that help us all to look at what we do, how we do it and why we do it, and how that serves the mission that Jesus gives us. We are challenged by many things but we need to look at everything through the clear call of Jesus’ mission which is the purpose of our existence. To some of the parishes involved in this year’s regional changes I have already said that after Easter 2020 I want to embark on a regional consideration of these big questions. I am flagging here that this is a journey we need to take across all Mission & Ministry regions in the Diocese.

We are meant to be a people on the move, a people with a mission. Like the Christ-Child for whom we wait anew, humble and vulnerable amongst all newborns, God is starting something new among us, however humble its beginnings.

I pray the blessings of Advent hope, Christmas joy and missionary courage upon all of us.

MOST REV TIMOTHY J HARRIS

Bishop of Townsville

5 December 2019

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