Holy spirit

Prelates see the synodal process as the realm of the Holy Spirit to inspire the Church

By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service

As Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis sees, the Church-wide synod convened by Pope Francis is all about the Holy Spirit.

Over the coming months, people from across the Church – laity, clergy, religious, administrators and even those who have ceased to practice the Catholic faith – will come together to meet, listen to each other and discern as they shape the presence of the Church in a world that knows joy and faces tragedy.

“If there is no Holy Spirit, it is not a synod,” Bishop Hebda said.

With the inspiration of the Spirit, the two years of preparation leading up to the Synod of Bishops on Synodality convened by Pope Francis for October 2023 will provide the framework for what the Pope envisions as a synodal church – a church in which people “walk together on the same path”. way” to respond to God’s call to serve one another.

Bishop Hebda speaks from experience. He saw the Holy Spirit at work in the Archdiocese of Minnesota, inspiring and shaping the faithful as he navigated his own synod process since 2019.

The exercise will culminate in an archdiocesan synod scheduled for Pentecost in June, followed by the publication of a pastoral letter from Bishop Hebda expressing the results of the synod on the feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2022.

“It certainly taught us that there is a desire on the part of our faithful to engage in meaningful dialogue and sharing,” Bishop Hebda said.

The synodal process opened by Pope Francis on October 10 in the Vatican and beginning a week later in dioceses around the world is not intended to nullify or replace what happens in a local synod.

The Vatican “vade-mecum” or manual, which offers guidelines for dioceses in the worldwide synod process, recognizes that some dioceses have recently concluded or are in the midst of their own synod and that there is no need to reboot completely.

These local synods can focus on specific ministries, such as young adults or family life, that lead to tangible results. This is not the case with the broader synodal process called for by the pope, several prelates told Catholic News Service.

Opening the synodal process, Pope Francis described the effort as an effort to discover how the Holy Spirit calls the Church to be of service to the world and to evangelize by living the Gospel.

The pope’s call for synodality is rooted in his deep involvement as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2007 drafting a document for CELAM, the acronym for the Spanish name of the council of bishops. Latin Americans, which met in Aparecida, Brazil. . The document made repeated calls for a “continental mission,” a church that seeks ways to take the gospel to all.

Synodality—listening together—demands that as many voices as possible be heard, explained Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

“It’s a bit like a pilgrimage. It is not the destination. That’s what happens along the way,” he told CNS.

Cardinal Tobin compared the steps that are just beginning in the synodal process to the V Encuentro, or Fifth National Encuentro, in the United States. It was a multi-year process in which Latinos came together locally, then at the diocesan and regional levels and finally, in 2018, at the national level to discern how to respond as a church.

“Try to imagine the Encuentro on steroids,” he said of the current process.

It’s because the billion Catholics around the world are being asked to offer their aspirations, wounds and ideas in prayer to shape the church into the future.

Some church watchers have questioned the idea of ​​having a synod over synodality, wondering why the church needs to have meetings over more meetings. Such a view misses the essentials of synodality, the Prelates said.

“It’s a way of being church,” Cardinal Tobin said of synodality. “The pope invites everyone to be part of it. The rationale for this is that we all share baptism and are all incorporated into Christ.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, said the process will help inform not just the clergy and the pope, but the entire church body about the material and spiritual needs of people around the world. .

“That’s what you read in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles,” Bishop McKnight said. “I think that’s how we have to start thinking about ourselves in everything.”

Certainly, Bishop McKnight continued, such a way of being Church poses challenges in the way the Church functions in all of its entities, parishes, dioceses and institutions, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It also presents a challenge for the laity who, he said, may have by default played “a passive role because they would rather have church leaders handle everything.”

“The way we carry out our mission must be done together,” he said.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the process can serve to unify people throughout the church as they come together. “We have to get people involved,” he said.

As the listening, or engaging, stage unfolds between now and June, Bishop McElroy expects opportunities to arise for the diocese to become more synodal in its functioning. He said diocesan leaders will take what they learn, send it to the USCCB, and then begin integrating key insights into diocesan operations.

The Bishop wants synodality to become the norm even before final conclusions are drawn by the Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis in October 2023.

“I hope this is an opportunity for us not only to assess the level of synodality, which is already present in the life of our local church, but to take it forward dramatically,” he said. .

In the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the synodal process is largely in the hands of 260 delegates commissioned by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano to go out and meet the people in prayer.

From church meetings at town hall to one-on-one conversations, delegates will hear people talk about their concerns, hurts and hopes, he told CNS.

“At the end of the day, we are not trying to solve a problem,” Bishop Caggiano said. “What we’re trying to do is discern the solution that already exists. The Holy Spirit already knows what the solution is.

This requires, he explained, listening and being present to people so that they can express their deepest desires for their spiritual life – and ultimately the life of the church as society emerges from the pandemic.

“This synod, as I understand it, is unveiling a new methodology where all of God’s people, the baptized in the church, have a role of listening and discernment and feedback so that those who are the shepherds of the church be informed,” Bishop Caggiano recalled as he told delegates before they began their months-long awareness campaign across the diocese.

The effort in each diocese should extend beyond those who are traditionally active in parish life.

Pope Francis has encouraged those on the margins of society – the locked-in elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the struggling poor and hungry, those sleeping in tents and cars and people who have been injured by the church in one way or another – to be invited to participate in the synodal process.

The Diocese of San Diego plans to include outreach to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Young adults, who are increasingly disaffiliated with the Catholic Church, are receiving increased attention in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

None of the effort goes against traditional church teaching, said Bishop Robert J. McClory of Gary, Indiana, who came to the diocese a month before the pandemic hit. and following a diocesan synod convened in 2017 to determine ministry priorities.

“It’s not about subverting the fundamental teaching of the church, but about trying to focus our mission and engage the laity,” Bishop McClory told CNS.

“The Holy Father says it’s about evangelism and it’s about advancing our mission. So we can ask ourselves how do we engage capable people in the life, ministry and mission of the church,” he explained.

None of the bishops who spoke with CNS expressed a desire for some outcome of the two-year process, other than that they hope the church will become one that listens more carefully, cares a little deeper, and does progress charity and love more concretely.

“It’s still a bit of discovery for me,” Bishop McKnight said. “We do what the Holy Father asks. I look forward to what will come out of it. »

Like Archbishop Hebda, Cardinal Tobin handed over the effort to the Holy Spirit.

“The church is not our project,” he said. “It is a project of the Holy Spirit, bringing the church together and making reconciliation possible.”