Year of Grace – an Overview
The Year of Grace was an initiative of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). The outlines were developed by a Working Party of four Bishops chosen by the ACBC, being Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe sdb, Bishop David Walker, and Bishop Michael Putney. This Working Party proposed that the Year of Grace be based on Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, picking up especially the phrases “contemplate the face of Christ” and “starting afresh from Christ”.
During the ACBC Plenary of May 2011, the Bishops unanimously accepted their proposal, and it was determined that the Year of Grace should run from Pentecost 2012 to Pentecost 2013. A National Project Officer was appointed and, by mid-2012, a Coordinator was appointed in every Archdiocese, Diocese, Eparchy and Ordinariate in the country.
Archbishop Philip Wilson, as President, issued a Pastoral Letter announcing the Year of Grace on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
Soon after this decision was made, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year of Faithfor the Universal Church, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. It was quickly and easily decided that, in Australia, these two initiatives would run in tandem as it were, each complementing the other.
Annual National Meetings of these Coordinators were held in Sydney in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and in between, they kept in touch with bi-monthly teleconferences or meetings, and received communications from the Project Officer. Through these means they were able to share ideas and resources, and support each other in a variety of ways.
Soon after the first of these National Meetings, a small National Planning Team was formed, consisting of several Diocesan Coordinators with a variety of skills and expertise and, at the suggestion of the Bishops of the Working Party, with nominees from Catholic Religious Australia and the Secretariat for Catholic Education. This small group worked closely with the Bishops of the Working Party and with the Project Officer, in some face-to-face meetings and by teleconference.
A logo was designed, and this website was set up. A short inspirational video clip was designed, to launch the Year of Grace, and the Bishops of the Working Party all spoke to camera for clips that also went onto the website. There followed a series of articles on grace, and a great variety of resources (banners, posters, prayers, etc.) that were available to people to use or adapt as they liked. In time, people were invited to subscribe to an e-bulletin, Living Grace. Eventually this had nearly 2,000 subscribers, and ran to 20 monthly editions.
Just before Pentecost 2012, and to inaugurate the Year of Grace, the Planning Team produced a beautiful Prayer Card, containing an Icon of the Face of Christ and the National Prayer. An astonishing 1,670,000 of these cards were ordered, and on the initiative of the Coordinators from the Maronite, Melkite and Chaldean Eparchies, a further 50,000 Prayer Cards were produced with the Prayer in both English and Arabic. The Prayer could also be found on the website translated into several dozen other languages, and signed in Auslan for people with impaired hearing. Several local initiatives had a national reach, such as the e-conferences on Grace sponsored by the Diocese of Broken Bay, or Sydney’s Pilgrimage of Grace visit of the relic of St Francis Xavier.
Towards the end of 2012 the National Planning Team produced a DVD, Contemplate the Face of Christ, featuring Australian-sourced photos of images of Christ, in a variety of styles and forms. The DVD could be viewed with or without accompanying quotes from Scripture, and either for the full 30 minutes or in six five-minute “chapters”. 3,500 copies were produced and distributed.
A large Year of Grace candle was presented to each Diocese, and these were replicated in many parishes around Australia. Likewise, many parishes and schools made banners and logos, inserted regular notices in their bulletins and publications, and so on.
It is important to say, however, that while many initiatives were undertaken around the country the whole emphasis of the Year of Grace was that it was not about “doing” things, and especially not “doing extra things”, but rather seeking to “start afresh from Christ”. It was an invitation to “contemplate the face of Christ”, to find new or better or more focused ways of praying – individually, in groups, in parishes, in schools, in retreats, etc.
On Pentecost Sunday 2013, to mark the end of the Year of Grace, an on-line survey was set up, inviting people to reflect on the Year of Grace. There were 875 responses, and a summary of these replies was given to the ACBC.
At their final National Meeting, in June 2013, the Diocesan Coordinators undertook a similar exercise. Again, their reflections were presented to the ACBC. It was noted that they, perhaps more than anyone else, were the people best placed to note and report on the various fruits of the Year of Grace that they observed “at ground level” in their local Churches.
Originally the Bishops of the Working Party, and the National Planning Team, had worked towards a Celebration of Repentance (based on a similar Liturgy celebrated by Pope John Paul II during the Jubilee Year in Rome). This was to have been celebrated on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2013, and was to be called “Bringing Our Wounds to Jesus”. However, with the calling of the National Royal Commission, as well as several other regionally based Enquiries, in almost every Diocese (except Townsville, Rockhampton, Maitland-Newcastleand Port Pirie) it was decided that this was not the most appropriate time for such an initiative.
A Celebration of Holiness, again based on a somewhat similar event in Rome during 2000, has been planned in some places, to take place around the Feast of All Saints Day 2013, to mark the end of the Year of Grace / Year of Faith.
In the many positive comments that have been received, this is among the most consistent. People appreciated that the Year of Grace was an invitation, not an imposition.