By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Participants in a recent online training session for those willing to lead Synod discussions in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon were able to give the process itself a try.
During the Zoom training session Jan. 5, participants discussed a number of the Synod questions in small groups, choosing a leader and reporting back what was heard on the topic of “listening,” one of several suggested themes for the Synod For a Synodal Church 2021-2023.
Questions addressed during the sample Synod session during the online training session included:
- How is God speaking to you through voices you sometimes ignore, including those on the peripheries?
- How are you listened to in your parish, especially if you are a woman or a young person?
- What are some limitations in your ability to listen to those who have different views than your own?
- How might your parish listen better?
It was important to provide participants with a chance to experience something of the process that parish and group coordinators are being asked to lead in their own settings, said Fr. Joseph Salihu, a member of the diocesan Synod implementation committee. “The process may sound overwhelming but in reality, it is simple. You just need to get a group’s attention and its focus on the questions. As they honestly address them, they begin to journey together, which is the goal of this Synod,” he said.
The diocesan training session will be offered again on both Jan. 27 and on Feb. 16 (starting at 7 p.m. on Zoom) for any others planning to lead a Synod process in a parish or for another group or community.
In addition to a brief experience of the Synod process, the training includes introductory videos featuring Bishop Mark Hagemoen providing an overview, and diocesan Synod committee members Heather Fiolleau and Fr. Joseph Salihu providing details about the role of Synod coordinators and an overview of diocesan resources to assist in the process, including a diocesan coordinator’s handbook.
“Synodality indicates a way of how the People of God journey together in a posture of attentive listening to the Holy Spirit, and presence to one another,” said Bishop Mark Hagemoen in his overview of the Synod For A Synodal Church called for by Pope Francis, highlighting the Synod’s three key words – communion, participation, and mission.
“This Synod process involves all the faithful of the local diocese and all of it churches” over two years, 2021-2023, said Hagemoen. The present “diocesan listening phase” will be followed by national, continental and universal Church phases, culminating in an assembly of bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.
During an earlier information session about the Synod in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon held online Dec. 1, the goals and spirit of the process were also addressed.
During the Dec. 1 event, Bishop Hagemoen quoted the International Theological Commission (ITC) description included in the “Vademecum” document prepared for the Synod: “First and foremost, synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies. the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working.”
“As the Church embarks on this synodal journey, we must strive to ground ourselves in experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be,” quoted the bishop.
Hagemoen went on to say that synodality is the work of the Holy Spirit, an essential element of the Church (not a “fad”), reflects a profound theological truth, always requires attentive listening and invites bold, respectful speaking. He added that synodality recognizes the giftedness of the Holy Spirit among the People of God; it can be found in common, routine interactions; it involves all and is expressed in communion at all levels of the Church; and it faces a number of barriers or temptations such as silence, fear, inadequacy and timidity.
Pope Francis described the purpose of the Synod in his Opening of the Synod in October 2021: “We recall that the purpose of the Synod, and therefore of this consultation, is not to produce documents, but to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.”
Principles of the synodal process include participation, communion and mission, described Fr. Joseph Salihu during the Dec. 1 Zoom gathering.
Being open to all, to the widest possible range of people was part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, he noted. “Special care should be taken to involve all those at the risk of being excluded.” This includes women, refugees, migrants, the elderly, the poor and those living with disability, as well as those Catholics who are no longer attending Mass or no longer practicing the faith. It is also important to listen to other voices, such as those from other faith traditions or those of no religious belief, he noted, quoting the Vatican documents about the Synod on synodality.
“The Synod is first and foremost a spiritual process,” Salihu stressed. “You are encouraged to root the local experience of the synodal process in meditation, on scripture, liturgy and prayer.” The Vatican document also notes that the Synod is not “a mechanical, data gathering exercise or a series of meeting and debates.”
At the heart of the process is “authentic discernment” grounded on listening – listening to each other, the Church’s tradition and to the signs of the times, Salihu explained, “because we believe that God speaks through them.”
The Synod concerns the process itself, with the aim that this will be the way that the Church journeys together and makes decisions going forward into the future, he added. “We need to consult as wide as possible on any decision we make as a Church.”
Fostering relationship and collaboration is key, Salihu said. Every parish and every group that is interested in being part of this Synod should get a coordinator, have someone ready to record and report the points raised in conversations around the various proposed questions, and “build a community,” he listed.
“The beauty of the diocese of Saskatoon is that we are used to consultative processes. This is nothing new. We are used to building communities where we discuss issues,” Salihu said.
During the Dec. 1 online event, speaker Sandra Harper of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish shared her perspective about the Synod as an Indigenous woman. When it comes to listening and speaking out, there is a need for some healing and for building relationships, she said, noting that historically, Indigenous people have not had the opportunity to bring their stories to the table and have not had the experience of being listened to. “If you are just finding your voice, you need to be comfortable enough to use that voice and to know that there are not going to be assumptions or judgments made.”
She added: “We have to change for the betterment of people… If we truly believe that no human being is unworthy in the eyes of God, then we can build trust with each other, we can heal the wounds – and all of these words are taken out of the Synod document itself: wounds will be bound, new relationships will be established and we will reawaken the dawn of hope. Well that is what I need. I need hope. I need hope for my people. I need hope that my grandchildren and my children won’t have to suffer some of the things I have in my lifetime that I should not have suffered through… In some cases, the Catholic Church has not been that good to me. Do I want to dwell on that? No. I want to repair a relationship, and I want to have a good relationship, because I believe in God, and I want good for everybody.”
Bishop Hagemoen recommended simply embarking on the process in the weeks ahead, without being concerned about outcomes and results. “I think that Pope Francis, because he is the Pope of accompaniment amongst other things, wants the People of God to get into a process of living and breathing what it means” to be synodal, he said.
More than ever during this difficult time in history, it is a time to trust in the Holy Spirit, the bishop concluded.
Why participate in the Synod?