Some 63 expectant people in Connolly Hall, Wellington, were among around 5,000 people throughout New Zealand, Australia, and further afield gathered for a day’s innovation—an electronic seminar on Paul the apostle on June 30.
The groundbreaking seminar was an initiative of the Broken Bay Institute and the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and connected people in more than 180 sites to the seminar in Sydney via an internet link.
As well as New Zealand and Australia, there were sites in the Philippines, Peru, US, Canada, Malta and Thursday Island.
Because everyone heard the same speakers at the same time, the electronic link gave a sense of the universal church that Paul strove to establish, said one of the organisers in Wellington, Sr Elizabeth Julian.
‘It was really following the footsteps of Paul in an innovative way but also picking up his mantle of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.’
Popular Australian television presenter Mike Bailey was the master of ceremonies and kept all the sessions to time which was a key element in the universal linkup.
The speakers were Jesuit Pauline scholar Brendan Byrne SJ, Josephite Pauline scholar Michele Connolly RSJ, and Jesuit communications specialist Richard Leonard SJ. Each speaker had 20 minutes to make their address, after which each site broke out from the link for group discussion. The different groups were each given an opportunity to put questions to the speakers which were emailed to Sydney. A selection were addressed either by the next speaker or in the panel discussion at the end of the day.
‘The level of the questions that came up showed that people were really listening,’ Sr Elizabeth said.
‘Many people commented that the screen meant that it was almost as good as having the speakers in the room, possibly better because they were larger.’
People also managed to be there for the whole day which was remarkable for a weekday though some came and went, knowing that they could catch the talks on the internet over the following three months to fill in gaps.
The choice of speakers was excellent and gave a good balance with each one presenting a different perspective on Paul and referring to each other’s speeches. Brendan Byrne spoke of the importance of knowing when reading or hearing a letter of Paul’s whether it was a letter Paul actually wrote or one written in his name. Scholars have established that Paul wrote seven letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The ‘pastoral’ letters, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, were written shortly after Paul’s death and the ‘deutero-Pauline’ letters, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, were written at least a generation after Paul’s death. In the second part, Fr Byrne gave a wonderful presentation on Paul’s sense of grace, explaining that what we hear from Paul in the liturgy unfortunately often highlights sin.Sr Michele Connolly spoke of the geography of Paul’s work and the people with whom he worked. She also referred to parts of Paul’s letters which scholars believe were written by others and inserted. One example is at 1Corinthians 14:34ff calling on women to be silent in church.
Although Richard Leonard was not a Pauline scholar, his media expertise was important because, as he said, Paul was also an excellent communicator. His theme was the importance of the church taking Jesus’ message out into the world, as Paul did. Emphasising key opportunities the Church already has for evangelisation Fr Leonard claimed with great passion, ‘I baptise anything that moves, I marry anything that moves and I bury anything that doesn’t!’
‘Hearing questions from other areas made us feel that we were participating in some wider movement. If Paul were here today he would have been using the technology,’ Sr Elizabeth said.
The seminar was an experiment to see how the technology could be used in adult faith formation.
‘This technology is particularly helpful for us in New Zealand because we don’t have the pool of theologians that the Australians with their larger population have.’
Another organiser, Susan Wilson of the Catholic Education Centre, said a number of people had emailed and otherwise made an effort to give positive feedback.
The econference speeches will be available on the internet until the end of September www.paul.vividas.com/
Images: Break-out sessions characterised the econference with attendees given a chance to discuss each presentation and formulate questions to be emailed to the conference venue in Sydney and incorporated into the next speech.
above right: Fr Richard Leonard SJ on the screen.