By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
There has never been a synod like the one that will begin Oct. 17 in cathedrals across Canada.
It’s not that lay people have never before been asked their opinion, but this Synod on Synodality begins with their opinions and from that moment on it will be about their hopes, dreams, disappointments and opinions — including the opinions of Catholics who have walked away from Church.
“I certainly hope that the process can be a step towards creating a new relationship with detached Catholics,” said Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth communications director Aura Sadi who will be deeply involved in the synod process. “Something different is happening with this synod and if we are able to witness this different way of engaging people well, if we are able to tell our story well, then I think the difference will show.”
Whether or not ex-Catholics will be shocked by the sight of a listening Church or are surprised that the Church cares what they think, synod success will have a lot to do with the sincerity and honesty of the Church, Montreal’s Archbishop Christian Lépine told parish representatives at the relaunch of Montreal’s “Together on a Mission” campaign Sept. 22.
“Do we have this desire, to give Jesus Christ to the world because we know that Jesus Christ is life, is love, is hope, is salvation?” the archbishop asked.
The Together on a Mission campaign gives the Archdiocese of Montreal something of a jump on the synod, since the campaign was designed to follow synodal principles as a process of listening, learning and discerning. In a province where Sunday Church attendance hovers around 10 per cent, Lépine is determined to talk to the other 90 per cent.
Like Montreal, Halifax-Yarmouth has a leg up thanks to its annual Assembly of the People of God event. Originally a way to involve parishioners in the affairs of the diocese as it reorganized parishes, it has become an anticipated annual event for Nova Scotia Catholics.
“Our people and parishes are accustomed to be asked for their input and offering feedback to our bishop,” Sadi said. “Having the experience of our Assemblies, I think, certainly helps with engaging people with the synod process.”
Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Brian Dunn will get a head start on the rest of the Church by celebrating an inaugural Mass for the Synod Friday, Oct. 15 at a weekend event that launches the synod and reconvenes the annual Assembly of the People of God.
Vancouver’s Archbishop Michael Miller is waiting until Oct. 24 to celebrate an inaugural Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral. By then, Vancouver chancellor Barb Dowding should be back from Rome, where she will take part in the opening celebrations with Pope Francis.
The Canadian delegation to the synod opening includes Dowding, Sr. Chantal Desmarais of the Sisters of Charity of Sainte-Marie, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops theological advisor Patrick Fletcher, newly elected CCCB president Bishop Raymond Poisson and outgoing president Archbishop Richard Gagnon.
As for reaching the majority of Catholics no longer attending Mass, the Vancouver archdiocese’s communications director Paul Schratz has his doubts.
“I’m not sure how people such as non-churchgoers would hear about it and know where to make a submission, nor what kinds of questions would be specifically tailored for them,” Schratz wrote in an e-mail.
A trip to Rome for Cardinal Thomas Collins will also delay the synod opening in Toronto. The cardinal plans to celebrate the opening liturgy at one of the regularly scheduled Masses the following weekend. In the meantime a working group has come together that will be sharing information with parishes about how and when parishioners can get involved.
“Obviously, current COVID-19 restrictions provide some challenges, but we will strive to have a process that uses a number of tools to gather feedback,” said Archdiocese of Toronto communications director Neil MacCarthy.
In Regina, the archdiocese is hoping for a synodal listening process that drills down deeper than the parishes.
“These synodal consultations will take place in a variety of formats, including discussions at parishes, in homes and home groups and through other, virtual means,” said spokesperson Eric Gurash.
A conversation that gets beyond the usual suspects with close connections to parish priests and the diocesan administration is a high priority, said Gurash.
“Listening and dialogue, especially with those on the margins of society and Church, have been two key pastoral priorities in our diocese over the past several years,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We see this synodal process as an important means of growing the foundations that have already been set in some areas of our ministry and expanding this priority of walking together to other areas which could also benefit from this kind of intentional listening and discernment.”
Reaching the unchurched and the ex-churched is what its all about for the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, said Marisa Casagrande, senior consultant strategic planning and research.
“This is very much at the forefront of our thinking,” she said. “We need to try to reach this group as much as possible. The challenge will be how.”
Online surveys are likely part of the solution, Casagrande said.
In addition to an opening liturgy, Ottawa-Cornwall plans to release a video in which Archbishop Marcel Damphousse explains the process and encourages Catholics to take part.
“We are also viewing this formal synodal process as only the beginning of a longer, spiritual process of listening to the people of God within our archdiocese,” Casagrande wrote in an e-mail.
“The upcoming synod is very important in the life of the universal Church and during this initial phase all people of God — laity, religious, clergy — will be called to engage and dialogue on the synodal journey,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesperson Lisa Gall.
Diocesan consultation will result in diocese-by-diocese reports, which will be gathered and summarized by staff at the CCCB in April 2022. Before March of 2023, the CCCB will join with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the continental phase of the synod, leading from there to the final stage in Rome in October of 2023.