Synod experience varies for parishes and groups across the diocese of Saskatoon

(Screen capture image from online event Dec. 1, 2021 - Catholic Saskatoon News)

A diocesan Synod Summit will be held Wednesday, May 18 to present the summary of submitted Synod responses, before the diocesan synthesis is finalized and sent on to the next level of the two-year Synod process: 6:30 p.m. May 18 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, with an online option to attend virtually.

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

Synod discussions in parishes and by groups in the diocese have concluded and coordinators have now submitted summaries of what was heard to a diocesan Synod team. The parish input will be brought together in a diocesan submission that will go into a national synthesis that in turn will be part of the global input sent to the Vatican as part of the Synod on synodality launched by Pope Francis. The Synod will culminate in a Synod of Bishops in October 2023.

Since January, parish and group coordinators in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – and other dioceses around the world — have introduced the Synod process using a number of set questions, and striving to make it a spiritual effort, led by the Holy Spirit. Parishes large and small have participated in different ways, discussing, listening and sharing responses to a range of questions.

For some parishes it involved multiple evening meetings, offered both in-person and on Zoom. For others it was an undertaking after Sunday Mass over one, two or three weeks. Some struggled with the questions and the format. Others tried to find creative ways to engage both parishioners and those “not in the pews,” including those who have left the Church or not actively engaged.

Early on in the diocesan process, Bishop Mark Hagemoen announced that there would be a public meeting at the end of the diocesan process, to report what was heard in this first, local phase of the Synod. That public diocesan Synod Summit meeting will be held in person at the Cathedral of the Holy Family on Wednesday, May 18, beginning with Mass at 6:30 p.m., followed by an information meeting. The diocesan meeting will also be available via video online.

Parishes are also looking closely at their own community responses to see what they can learn about how those participating in the Synod are experiencing walking together as a faith community, where there are gaps or issues, and what people might be longing for.

The concept of a “Synod on Synodality” has challenged many to grapple with exactly what that process means, and how to prayerfully participate in the “walking together” and listening that synodality involves.

Some parishes found the language and the process too daunting to even attempt. “There was no interest when they can not understand the questions,” said one parish representative from a rural parish in the Humboldt deanery, describing the “push back” from parishioners on the wording of questions.

Other parishes adapted the questions, some chose only a few to tackle, while others jumped in to do “the works” exploring most of the discussion-prompting questions proposed by the Synod documents and the diocesan Synod team.

Parish Synod co-ordinator Cynthia Foster at St. Francis Xavier parish setting up for a session in March. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski – Catholic Saskatoon News)

“Already the Holy Spirit has been speaking powerfully to our parish and through our parish to the diocese and the Church,” announced Fr. Stefano Penna during the process held at St. Paul Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon.

In the Davidson Pastoral region of Davidson, Kenaston, Outlook and Elbow, four parishes worked cooperatively as a region on the Synod.  The format decided on was weekly sessions one topic per week for seven weeks, so the discussion process would be completed by April 1.

“Seven weeks is a large commitment, and while not everyone attended all seven weeks, most attendees were quite regular,” reported the Davidson regional coordinator. “This commitment however was most likely a barrier to most, who are considered to be on the periphery. We did try to address this by inviting them to participate online. We also had copies of the questions available at the church for those not able to participate in the group sessions, and encouraged parishioners to share them with others.” Questions were published in the weekly bulletin ahead of time, and website links published to Synod information and online submission forms.

“After the synthesis is completed, we hope to meet as a region to share the results and to celebrate our achievement,” she added, stressing the importance of support from pastor Fr. Joseph Thazhathemuriyil, VC, from parish staff and leaders in each parish in the region.

At Saint Anne Parish in Saskatoon people were invited to sign up and receive training to lead small groups, which had a variety of ages and backgrounds. The groups met independently, with some gathering in homes, others in Church and some online.  “A couple of parishioners made their own groups by inviting their neighbors,” said Fr. Matthew Ramsay, who dedicated a number of homilies to the Synod. Each group met seven times, going over the seven questions highlighted by the diocese. The Knights of Columbus in the parish discussed Synod questions as part of their meetings, and nearby Bishop James Mahoney High School had a series of Synod sessions over the lunch hour

“The one thing we’ve added is instead of asking people to pray about the questions beforehand, we actually took 10-20 minutes in silence together before the first round of sharing,” Fr. Matthew Ramsay added.

In some rural parishes, when a volunteer coordinator could not be found, the parishes relied on verbal and written announcements and Facebook to introduce the Synod and to encourage parishioners to participate online.

Parish efforts included a number of strategies

A number of rural parishes reported that they listed the Synod questions in the church bulletin (whether in online bulletins or in a paper copy), asking parishes to submit responses by e-mail or by dropping them in the collection basket. Other parishes undertook a combination of in-person discussion and collecting written responses to the questions. Some pointed parishioners to the online individual Synod submission survey available on the diocesan website.

Christ the King Parish, Foam Lake, SK, hosted three Sunday afternoon sessions in a community meeting room rather than in the church building, in case some might feel intimidated by an event held at church. “We invited Catholic members of the reserve nearby, many people in our community who have left the church, other denominations, and our faithful parishioners. We had 14 people attend our first two sessions, all but 1 who are practising Catholics,” reported the parish Synod coordinator.

At St. Bruno Parish, Bruno, SK, the Synod coordinator reported holding seven evening sessions, following suggested guidelines for facilitators – song, scripture, synod prayer, review of guidelines and recommendations, a time of silence to listen to the Holy Spirit, posing the questions and then sharing in dialogue, before closing with scripture and thanksgiving. That parish coordinator reported: “Everyone is very engaged in the discussions – love sharing and being heard – there is excitement for the future of our Church.  Hope is in the air!”

Synod questionnaires were copied and sent to each household at St. Peter Parish, Unity, SK, and were also shared with the high school Christian Ethics teacher for use with students. In-person meetings were also held over seven weeks, but with a small turnout that the coordinator found disappointing.

The coordinators at St. Theresa Parish in Rosetown, SK, distributed a condensed version of the questions to all parishioners, encouraging them to drop off their responses at church, end via email or participate online. The parish also held an in-person discussion evening with free babysitting and lunch provided

Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Saskatoon combined the parish Synod sessions with a potluck meal and Eucharistic adoration; while at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Saskatoon, Synod questions were discussed after Mass on two Sunday mornings. At St. John Bosco Parish in Saskatoon, Stations of the Cross were held every Friday for six weeks, followed by discussion of the Synod questions. “We also added an insert to our bulletin encouraging those unable to participate on Friday to fill out the questions on the Diocesan website.”

St. Augustine Parish in Humboldt held three in-person meetings that the coordinator described as a positive experience.

St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon, parishioners were encouraged to participate, to share their experiences of “Church.” A parish phone team contacted parishioners about the Synod and invitations were sent out via email and announcements inviting participation in four in-person Synod gatherings and others offered via Zoom.

St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon held Saturday afternoon sessions in the parish hall over several weeks. The coordinator reported that attendance was smaller than anticipated “but the ‘core’ are attending regularly and the quality of ‘speaking out’ is very insightful and sincere.”

The parishioners attending Mass in Spanish conducted their own Synod discussions after their regular 4 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Mary Parish.

A Synod display at Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon was one way the parish Synod team worked to keep parishioners informed and updated. The parish Synod team also released short videos about the parish Synod meetings each week. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatooon News)

St. Patrick Parish held three afternoon and three evening Synod sessions  — the afternoon sessions featured small group discussion and “gallery walk” method of collecting written responses, while the evening sessions featured small group discussion with pastor Fr. David Tumback and the collection of anecdotal comments. Opportunities for additional feedback included setting up a written response board in the church gathering area for input, and asking those attending to also seek input from other parishioners and bring their thoughts back to the meetings.

The Cathedral of the Holy Family held evening sessions – four in-person and four online via Zoom, while Holy Spirit Parish, Saskatoon coordinators organized seven weekly sessions, offered on Zoom one evening and in-person the next night.

In addition to announcements, messaging and social media, the Holy Spirit Parish team utilized regular video updates to encourage participation. Questions related to Truth and Reconciliation were cited as a major focus in the process by team member Cameron Choquette. “Truth and Reconciliation is a really important topic for our church right now,” he said.

View the video update from the Holy Spirit Parish team:

Other groups also participated:

At Columbian Manor seniors’ residence in Saskatoon, a Synod coordination team organized five weekly encounters with an average attendance of 37 participants. “It was a blessed event, a beneficial experience of ‘walking together,’” reported the Columbian Manor team. “In Encounter # 5, Discerning and Deciding, we added three questions of our own –two on clericalism, and one final asking participants their thoughts and hopes, at the end of our synodal journey.”

Details from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools participation in the Synod eported by Darcie Lich, GSCS Coordinator of Religious Education, included:

  • High school teacher chaplains facilitated feedback collection process in each high school
  • Formats varied between schools – with support from GSCS Religious Education office provided (including financial support for supplies, refreshments, pizza lunch, etc.
  • High school Catholic Studies teachers could opt in and conduct feedback gathering processes in their own classes if they wish
  • Input was collected and sent to GSCS Religious Education office for synthesis and submission
  • GSCS staff were also encouraged to participate at their own parishes, however is schools engaged in the Synod at the local level, feedback was submitted to the GSCS Religious Education office for synthesis and submission.

With the diocesan Synod experience now completed, the various summaries prepared by coordinators across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon will now be collated and summarized into a 10-page diocesan Synthesis document that will be presented and reviewed at the public Synod Summit meeting May 18, before being finalized for submission to the national level.