The end of the Synodal Assembly of the first archdiocesan synod in 83 years was marked by a closing mass at 5 p.m. on June 5 at the same place as the opening mass on June 3: the Holy Spirit Church in Saint- Paul. The church is adjacent to the main Synod Assembly venue, Cretin-Derham Hall Secondary School.
With Archbishop Bernard Hebda presiding and Bishop Joseph Williams delivering the homily, about 500 delegates filled the church, most representing their parishes and some representing Catholic institutions. Delegates headed to Mass after panel discussions and voting on the last of the Synod’s three priority areas: Forming youth and young adults in and for an ever-youthful Church. The other two intervention zones were the focus of activities on June 4th.
Bishop Hebda welcomed everyone to Mass and, at the end, expressed his gratitude to the many people who contributed their time and donations to make the Synod possible, from the delegates to the volunteers, to the spouses and children of the delegates, to Father Joseph Bambenek, assistant director, and Thérèse Coons, director of the synod, as well as members of the executive committee and the prayer group of the synod, and the priests who concelebrated the mass, Father Daniel Haugan, pastor of Sainte -Cross, etc.
Bishop Williams began his homily by noting the great blessing of being in the Church of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. While it may be providential, what is not part of God’s providence is that the Synod takes place on the day of Pentecost, he said. This was the clear conception of Bishop Hebda, he said.
This shows that the key to implementing “all the hopes that we have expressed in recent days is found in this mystery,” said Bishop Williams, the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Bishop Williams said. “What is this power? … ‘And you will be my witnesses.’”
The power to witness is the true power of the Church, Bishop Williams said.
To be a Christian is above all to bear witness to Jesus, and that is what the apostles did, Bishop Williams said. “And that is why Christianity has spread all over the world. It’s not a question of money. It is not a political influence. It was a group of humble people convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead, who received the fire of the Spirit. And they converted one of the greatest empires in world history.
“…I think that is why our Archbishop brought us to this place, this upper room,” Bishop Williams said.
After three days of prayer, presentations and discussions, Synod delegate Jerry Buchman, a parishioner from St. Michael’s in Stillwater, said he was impressed with the quality of the organization of the Synod Assembly, the end. He could see the hard work that went into it and said he was impressed with the commitment of “our bishops and the leadership team.”
Buchman, 52, who works as an information technology manager, said it was evident that much prayer had gone into the Synod process and he found it to be genuine. “(The Archbishop is a real shepherd who wants to take us forward,” he said.
Buchman said that with the closing of the synod, he looks forward to greater collaboration within the whole archdiocese and a better understanding by all parishioners that “our local Church is the archdiocese, not our parish. individual, and that the work within the parishes is to serve the Church, to serve each of our brothers and sisters, Catholic and non-Catholic, because the Archbishop… wants to be a good shepherd for us.
Delegate Anne Cullen Miller, president of the St. Paul-based Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota, said her overwhelming thought about the Synod was that the Holy Spirit was present. “You could just feel individuals, myself included, moved by it,” she said. “There was an incredible, inexplicable vibe to this whole room.”
Several people said June 4 was a long day, but it passed quickly, said Cullen Miller, 59, a St. Joseph parishioner in West St. Paul. It was “an easy, wonderful day” with good, rich conversation and people really listening to each other, with some minds changed during a discussion, she said.
“There’s been a lot of learning and a lot of engagement,” Cullen Miller said, “and, I think, a lot of community building.”
Cullen Miller said she hopes for a strong execution of the fruits of the Synod next, first in a pastoral letter from Bishop Hebda in November and then in an archdiocesan action plan. With that, “we can come together as a local church,” she said. But “we won’t be able to do anything unless everyone comes together and brings energy and renewed hope to restore and grow our local church,” she said.
She thinks some structural change in the way mission and ministry are advanced is needed, and she thinks some of that will happen. Cullen Miller hopes that “we will find ways for the Holy Spirit not to abandon us after the synod closes and that we will be brought to a modernization in some way in our approach to advancing ministry and evangelism.”
The subject of evangelism was embedded in everything that was discussed, Cullen Miller said. “That’s the end goal of everything.”
Delegate Maddie Aspholm, a St. Stephen parishioner in Minneapolis and a stay-at-home mom, said the synod required work from planners and attendees. Unlike a typical nine-to-five job, she said being a synod delegate also required the whole heart, engaged the mind “and compelled us to really think beyond our individual parishes.”
Aspholm, her husband, Jim, and their 8-month-old daughter, Sadie, who was baptized by Bishop Williams, are parishioners of St. Stephen in Minneapolis.
She said she felt the Synod was well organized, that it went smoothly with clear and consistent discussions and guidelines for leading the discussion tables. “I was so thrilled with how differing opinions were voiced, but still received with kindness and love,” she said.
Aspholm said she hopes Bishop Hebda and Bishop Williams will continue to listen to the Holy Spirit as they consider what should come out of the Synod Assembly and ask for the Lord’s direction for the archdiocese. “And that there would be an opening on behalf of the parishes of the archdiocese to implement them,” she said. “My big hope is the opening because I think some of the resolutions that have come forward might surprise people,” Aspholm said. “But everything is inspired by God, it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we can be sure that we are in good hands and parishioners throughout the diocese will be ready to say yes to this.
Delegate Andrew Frenz, a parishioner of Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis, said one thing that struck him during the Synod Assembly’s small group discussions was the diversity of perspectives. Frenz said he prayed for the many proposals and his heart was centered on one or two that he felt were very important. But through discussions with five or six others, his eyes were opened to how and why others prioritized others.
Through discussions with people from various parishes and at different times in life, delegates got “a very comprehensive set of inputs into the process,” Frenz said.
Frenz, 36, head of software engineering, said he hopes that for the Synod moving forward as an archdiocese and as parishes, “we are basically able to paint a vision of the ‘future that is big enough’. He said “imagine the news articles, The Catholic Spirit articles that would be written about the transformation of our Archdiocese”, the fullness, the richness and the transformation that can happen, for people to dream big enough, aim for something big thing, and then can go back from that and say, “if this is where we want to be in three years, if this is where we want to be in five years, what do we need to do today ‘today, tomorrow, next year?
“Where do we need to be in our journey to make meaningful progress towards this?”
Frenz said his biggest fear is that “we’re too incremental in our thinking that ‘do one or two or three little things better,'” he said. “And we’re not getting to a point where a big impact or a huge transformation has happened.”
Frenz believes the Archdiocese has the potential for this “really huge transformation” ahead of it.
“But we have to think big enough, open our hearts and minds to what God is calling us to, just a radically improved future, so we can actually try to achieve it,” Frenz said.
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