Diocesan Pastoral Council meets at a key time to begin discerning next steps for diocesan plan

Bishop Mark Hagemoen launched the three-year Pastoral Plan developed in consultation with the Diocesan Pastoral Council in 2019 and is now asking that consultative body to review and update the plan in the coming months. The plan's stated Mission is to Proclaim Christ and God's Kingdom - "Have the same mind and heart as Christ Jesus." (Phil 2:5) (File photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Synod sessions in parishes across the diocese will help inform review of three-year diocesan Pastoral Plan

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

A brief introduction to the themes emerging from the Synod on Synodality in the diocese of Saskatoon April 23 provided some context for a preliminary discussion on next steps for the diocesan Pastoral Plan, which is also underway as parishes continue to deal with the impact of two years of a global pandemic.

Members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) — the largest consultative body in the diocese –  met with Bishop Mark Hagemoen in person and online to begin a reflection on the Pastoral Plan at a key moment in the diocesan Church, emerging from the effects of COVID-19 and having just engaged in the diocesan portion of a world-wide Synod on Synodality.

“As we come to the end of our consultation, it is good to see where our Pastoral Plan can help us in the process of the reception of the fruits of the Synod, on one hand, and how the outcome of the Synod can enrich our Pastoral Plan on the other hand.” – Fr. Joseph Salihu

Fr. Joseph Salihu of Holy Spirit Parish is the chair of the diocesan Synod team. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Fr. Joseph Salihu, diocesan Synod chair, provided an overview of “echoes” from the recent Synod discussion in parishes across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

Salihu stressed that his summary is not the official synthesis of the Synod consultations, which is still underway, and which will be presented to the diocese at a Summit meeting Wednesday, May 18, online and in-person at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

“The purpose of this update is to give you an idea of some of the issues that surfaced during the consultations,” Salihu said in his presentation to the DPC. “The presentation is based on my discussions with coordinators, sampled at random, in the different regions of the diocese. While awaiting the final synthesis, it will give you an idea of what to expect in your pastoral planning.”

Issues that surfaced included an often-recurring theme of a strong desire for community and belonging. “Added to this is the desire for collaboration between the priests and laity, in way that the hierarchical priesthood is at the service of the priesthood of the baptized,” said Salihu.

“People are yearning for a place where their gifts could be nurtured, leading to the deeper involvement of everyone in the parish community. There is a deep desire for integration into the parish. People share that they find a sense of belonging in other places, apart from their parish communities.”

There is a desire expressed for a welcoming, non-judgmental church that embraces all people like Christ would – including those who identify as LBGTQ, divorced people not in communion with the Church, and youth. At the same time, however, some “interpret this as blessing lifestyles that deviate from Christ’s teachings.”

When it comes to the issue of clericalism, some groups suggested that women could be more involved in making decisions at higher levels in the Church, without necessarily becoming priests. Others questioned why ordination of women is not considered. “In relation to this, others proposed the possibility of ordaining married men and allowing ordained priests to marry. Some went as far as suggesting that allowing ordained priests to marry will reduce sexual abuse,” he said.

Dialogue in the Church and society is another theme that has surfaced, he said, particularly in relation to the polarization society is experiencing. “Now more than ever before we need to create a safe environment where people can speak freely, knowing that they will be listened to. Some people express frustration with political correctness, which does not allow them to speak freely.”

When it comes to Truth and Reconciliation, there has been a mixed reaction in the Synod discussions, he said.  Some people expressed disappointment that they hear little or nothing of this issue in their parishes. Some participants are very passionate about it, while others express a complete lack of competence on how to forge ahead with the issue. While a good number agree that it is something we need to engage with more seriously.”

Salihu also noted that the individual online submissions in the Synod on Synodality process included participants who were raising “sensitive issues,” such as the sex abuse issue, the Church “capitulating to the government,” the Church being influenced by changes in society instead of holding onto orthodoxy, and a growing suspicion of Church officials deemed to be speaking in opposition to Church teaching, and a fear that this Synod may have an agenda of changing Church teaching.

“The issue of nurturing community and creating a welcoming environment in our parishes; collaboration between the ordained and the non-ordained; collaborative decision making; dialogue in the church and Truth and Reconciliation surfaced considerably. Our pastoral plan has proactively addressed most of these issues,” he said.

“As we come to the end of our consultation, it is good to see where our Pastoral Plan can help us in the process of the reception of the fruits of the Synod, on one hand, and how the outcome of the Synod can enrich our Pastoral Plan on the other hand.”

Three-year plan is up for review

Launched in the fall of 2019 as a three-year plan, it is now due for a review of the Pastoral Plan’s six priorities, said Bishop Mark Hagemoen, calling on the DPC representatives to reflect on what has been achieved in light of the Pastoral Plan, and what is missing, with an eye to updating and discerning future directions and launching an updated plan in the fall of 2022.

With its mission to “Proclaim Christ and God’s Kingdom Today,” and to “Have the same mind and heart of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5), the diocesan Pastoral plan was welcomed among both urban and rural parishioners, said Hagemoen.

Rural areas facing many challenges have appreciated the plan’s “focus that built on prayer and relationship with the Lord drawing into community,” he said. At the same time, it is necessary to look at some gaps, or some important themes that are implicit in the plan, but would benefit from being more explicit, he said.

Possible gaps that the bishop listed include outreach and service (for instance, addressing increases in homelessness and addiction); ecumenical and multi-faith efforts; the call to reconciliation and relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (listed in Priority 5 of the plan); the need for healing from trauma, abuse and wounds of all kinds; and a need to focus on care for creation. In addition, there is an ongoing need to work for rural-urban unity and support across the diocese, as well as to address feelings of disenfranchisement and isolation.

The ongoing and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on parishes and on the faith life of the baptized will also be part of the reflection on next steps for the diocese as outline in a revised Pastoral Plan.

A need to create dialogue in light of polarization is also a huge challenge, the DPC heard.

The Synod has been an invitation to listen to each other in unity with the Holy Spirit, and connecting on the level of deeper, fundamental human experience, noted DPC member Jim Anderson of St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission.

Establishing trust is critical, added DPC member Sandi Harper, noting that Indigenous people and others often do not feel safe to speak up in Church settings. “How you invite people into the conversation is really going to make the difference.”

The meeting continued with facilitator Greg Chatlain inviting small group discussion and collecting insights and input from the DPC members about the Pastoral Plan’s six priorities:

  1. Draw People into a Deepening Intimacy with the LordSupporting a deepening friendship and intimacy with Jesus Christ
  2. Make Every Sunday MatterFocusing on our Sunday celebrations
  3. “Embrace Your Priesthood”Discerning God’s call to each person to share in the mission and life of the Lord
  4. Build and Support Family and CommunityStrengthening and supporting families and marriages, vocations support
  5. Promote the Healing Journey in the LordHealing, growth, serving, ongoing conversion
  6. Move from Maintenance to MissionHelping parishes proclaim Christ in everything