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The Southern Cross : March 2012
March 2012 Page 9 www.thesoutherncross.org.au The Southern Cross feature | Parishes, prayer and the Church's treasury of wisdom are the three pillars of Father Philip Marshall's understanding of his role as Vicar General of the Adelaide Archdiocese. Having spent the past 35 years "immersed" in theological studies while also being a parish priest, it's not surprising that Fr Marshall has thought deeply about his recent appointment as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia. Renowned for his inspiring homilies and much-loved by the parish communities he has served at Noarlunga Downs, Salisbury and Hectorville, he is quick to point out that being Vicar General is not something he ever aspired to be. "But I accept it willingly because it is a way I can support the Archbishop, the Diocese and parishes," he said. "AndIhopeIcandoitwithasmuch grace as I can muster." He said the role must always be in relationship with the bishop who has "a huge responsibility to keep the diocese in harmony and faithful to the deep tradition of the Church." "So my role as Vicar General is to support him in this ministry in any way he asks me to do that, and as Moderator of the Curia (the Church office) I am responsible to ensure that all the different components of the diocese are working well and together." "Above all, I see my role as supporting parishes in their life and work: parishes are the place where faith and the Gospel touch their lives in a very real way -- at birth and death, in the significant stages of their lives...they are absolutely fundamental to the life of the Church. Fr Marshall passionately describes the heroism he has seen in his parishes where men and women are living out the Gospel. "It's hard to imagine the degree of love parents have for their children, the responsibilities they take on to look after someone they love, to look after dying parents. "I have seen some amazing witnesses to life and to be a priest in the midst of that is a great privilege. So in my life as Vicar General one of my main focus points is to support people to live their lives -- this is what has shaped me in everything I do. Most of the good things that have occurred to me have been through my encounters with my parish communities." His second guiding principle is his love of the deep spiritual and theological tradition of the Church -- "the magnificent treasury of wisdom we have". "I began studying theology in 1977 and I completed my doctorate in philosophy last year so I've pretty much immersed myself in it all that time," he said. "This memory of Church starts with the Gospel and continues for 2000 years of genius from people who have thought deeply about the Gospel and life -- every generation has to reflect on the Gospel again but we would be foolish if we ignored the wisdom of the past." Fr Marshall makes time to read each day and believes that one of the key contributions priests can make to the Church is to be "ministers of memory". The third focus of his life is prayer: "to me it's absolutely impossible to live the priestly ministry without time to pray. My day always starts with some hours of prayer and I try to hold onto this during the day," he said. "Prayer is the very best thing we can do to be open to the presence of God. I am trying to knit the experience of prayer into the role (of Vicar General) because this is what matters. At the heart of what I do is prayer -- structures by themselves aren't the Gospel, but they must seek to give faithful expression to it. "Prayer, the deep memory of the Church and the lives of people merge to make these three things into one." Fr Marshall said he is positive about the future of the Church because he believes the Gospel is "irrepressible". "It always finds vigorous expression in every age. If you look through the eyes of theology, the Church has never looked exactly the same in any society. The deep truths of our faith and tradition remain always the same, customs and expressions change through history. We have to be faithful to what is enduring and be wise about finding the expressions that will best proclaim that to the world and times God has given us. "The Gospel and our faith remain the same but the world around us is changing fast. If you look at the clothes and customs of the Church in 280 AD or in the Middle Ages you would hardly recognise it today, but the truths we live and proclaim remain the same." Pillars of wisdom 'In my life as Vicar General one of my main focus points is to support people to live their lives -- this is what has shaped me in everything I do.' By Jenny Brinkworth with lives, the cares, the interests of young people in our schools and secondly with the migrant communities particularly of the current era such as Vietnamese, and the recent arrivals from India and Africa who are appearing in our parishes. I don't believe we are engaging our newly arrived migrants very well. We may be welcoming but my test of real engagement is asking the question: 'How are we bringing new migrants into the centre of the life of the Church and not keeping them on the sidelines'? And I don't believe we are anywhere near a proper and large scale engagement with the lives of young people in our schools; an engagement that is an enlivening experience for both young people and the Church. And when I say we need to 'properly engage' I am suggesting a new and innovative dialogue be established that has as a major implication, real change in the life of the Church. Words like 'new' and 'innovative' might be slightly misleading, because the type of dialogue I would suggest needs to emerge between the Church and our school population, and the Church and migrant communities, is the dialogue written about by Pope Paul VI in 1964 in his Encyclical Letter called Ecclesiam Suam. I consider it one of the most important Encyclicals of the modern era, but it is rarely mentioned. A key point Pope Paul VI makes about dialogue is that if it is to be authentic, BOTH parties to dialogue must be open to change and growth. Often when institutions enter dialogue or the more modern term of 'consultation' it is little more than telling people what they should do or think. It is more of a 'one way street' and not a mutual, equal engagement. People pick this up instinctively. They know when dialogue or consultation is not authentic. And naturally, they hold back, feel disempowered and all that results is an increase in their cynicism and disengagement. Therefore a key point for the Churches in entering authentic dialogue is to put change on the table; to realise that there can be and must be new ways to assist young people and migrant groups to express their lives and their meaning within a life of faith. New ways that might mean that the institution of the Church has to become a little uncomfortable with itself as it grapples with a real response to real and contemporary needs. When there are issues of faith and doctrine that can't be changed, the Church needs to be crystal clear about this. But it also needs to be open to new ways of expression and activity that could be a lot more responsive to generational issues or the needs of culture. The Church has a powerful message of love and hope. It can open up to people an insight into eternity. And it has much to offer the wider community. But none of this will happen on a large scale with the youth of our schools, without new signs of genuine and authentic dialogue. And we will lose connection with our new migrant communities or relegate them to second class status in the Church if we do not say to them, 'here we are and we are ready to engage with you and adapt and change, so that your needs, your culture, your lives are properly valued and are placed at the centre of our Church life, and not the sidelines'. In a world that is more and more identified with rapid change and complexity, perhaps Churches need to experiment, push a few boundaries, and be innovative. Listen to people and dialogue! The future is upon us and unless we can embrace change we may find ourselves becoming a remnant or a rump to be viewed as an oddity of the 21st Century. The secular world wants the Church to keep its priests on the sanctuary and its values to itself. This can never be. Our message is too powerful and very relevant. Our urgent job is to engage the community and those who are vulnerable and in special need with active and authentic dialogue. Photo: Nat Rogers