SALT LAKE CITY — As the Universal Church prepares for the Synod of Bishops in 2023, parishes throughout the world are being asked to contribute to the process by reflecting on how the Church can “live communion, to achieve participation, to open herself to mission,” as the Preparatory Document for the synod states.
Over the next two years, the synod process will have three facets: diocesan, national and international, which will end with the synodal meeting in Rome.
On Oct. 10, Pope Francis formally opened the synod process. On Oct. 17, bishops around the world opened the process in their diocese. Bishop Oscar A. Solis opened the process for the Diocese of Salt Lake City by celebrating a Mass at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Concelebrating were Monsignor Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; the Very Rev. Martin Diaz, rector of the cathedral; Father Kenneth Vialpando, vicar for clergy; Fr. John Evans, coordinator of the diocesan synod efforts; and several other diocesan priests. Deacon John Kranz was Deacon of the Mass; Deacon George Reade, chancellor, and Deacon Guillermo Mendez were chaplains.
Attending the Mass were representatives of the various multiethnic communities in the diocese, diocesan leaders, pastoral ministers and parish representatives. The readings were proclaimed in Spanish, Tagalog and English; the Prayers of the Faithful were read in English, Korean, Vietnamese, Tongan and African – just a few of the many languages spoken in the diocese.
In the coming months, dioceses are being asked to hold listening sessions as part of the synod process “of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church in the third millennium,” states the handbook for the synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” which was published by the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican.
During his homily at the Oct. 17 Mass, Bishop Solis said, “Today our Diocese of Salt Lake City joins the Catholics throughout the world in a synodal process called by Pope Francis. He said that the synod or synodality is a means of journeying together, walking together on the same road in the way of the Lord as the people of God join in Christ to encounter or dialogue, to listen to the Holy Spirit and to discern the voice of God in our hearts.”
The synod theme is threefold: participation, communion and mission, the bishop said. “It is designed neither as a planning meeting or a platform for agendas but a time of prayerful listening and discernment, reaching out to those who currently participate in the Church’s life as well as those who do not, and this diocesan process of synod includes meetings in our parishes and missions throughout the diocese with focus on listening and consulting the People of God.”
During this journey, the people of God are called “to devote time to prayer and Adoration, to listen to what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the Church, to reflect by asking ourselves whether, we the Church, embodies the way of God which follows the path of history and shares in the light of humanity, to reflect on our own relationship with Christ, our communion with him and his Church and how we participate in its mission, the mission of evangelization, and of course, to renew our faith and share with others in our mission of evangelization,” the bishop said.
“This is a pivotal moment in the life of the Church, to open its doors, its ears and its heart to listen to the voice of the people on how we are doing as a Church and what we want the Church to be in the coming years,” he added, saying that the synod process is “a call to mission to profess our faith in Jesus, to share our belief with one another and to carry that mission in the spirit of service and sacrifice.”
A few days before the Mass, during the annual fall convocation for diocesan priests, Fr. Evans told the presbyterate that his preparation team for local synod efforts would have an orientation meeting on Oct. 20. The team of 17 members includes priests and deacons as well as two members of the laity from each deanery.
The team will be sending information to the priests about how to hold listening sessions. Fr. Evans asked for the support and help of his fellow priests, stressing that “the listening sessions aren’t a place to solve problems. The idea of the synod is that we’re listening to each other.”
Each parish is asked to invite to the listening sessions not only practicing Catholics but also those who have fallen away from the Church, people of other faiths, and people of no faith tradition. One of the pitfalls of this process may be “the temptation not to look beyond the visible confines of the Church,” the synod handbook states.
“When we do this by parish, it’s not by your parish church property, it’s by your parish territory, and you’re going to be asked to reach out to the peripheries,” Fr. Evans told his fellow priests.
This reaching out isn’t an attempt of the Church to assimilate into the larger culture but rather trying to understand the issues, he said, adding that it’s asking the question, “How do we shape our dreams and hope in our faithfulness in the Spirit of where we would go in the Church?”
The listening sessions will start in November and continue through the middle of February, he said. The feedback from the sessions at the parishes will be gathered into a document at the diocese that then will be sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which will compile a document from the United States that will be sent to Rome for the Synod of Bishops.
At the priests’ convocation, Bishop Solis said the synod is “an exciting and beautiful moment in the life of the Church.” He noted that he has been a priest for almost 43 years, “and this is the first time I’ve heard the Vatican take the initiative to listen to the people. Usually the Vatican imposes” directives, rather than asks for input.
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