An archdiocesan synod will help us set priorities

aymond    You announced plans this week to begin preparations for an archdiocesan synod. First of all, can you explain what a synod is?
    In its simplest form, a diocesan synod is a gathering of priests, religious and laity that has the objective of getting feedback and ideas and then advising the bishop on priorities for ministry, diocesan policies and pastoral care. The preliminary stages will be listening sessions – similar to town hall-style meetings – which we plan to hold in all 10 deaneries of the archdiocese, as well as listening sessions with other designated groups. I will attend every listening session to greet the participants and lead an opening prayer, but my role is exactly what the “listening session” implies. I, along with other pastoral staff, will be there to listen to the comments of people throughout the archdiocese.
    What form will the process take?
    The synod listening sessions will be facilitated by Paul Breaux, who is a consultant with the Catholic Leadership Institute, which is based in Philadelphia and has worked with more than 75 dioceses across the country since its founding 20 years ago. Paul lives in the archdiocese, so he is well aware of many of the local issues we face here in carrying out the mission and ministry of Jesus. The idea is to allow people to express their feelings about what the archdiocese is doing well, what we could be doing better and how we can reach out to others more effectively. That’s a call that has been emphasized most recently by Pope Francis.
    You have a reputation as a meticulous planner. Is a synod in keeping with your leadership style?
    I’ve consulted with a number of groups throughout the archdiocese, and I believe the time is right for a synod. I kept bringing the idea of calling a synod to prayer, and what I kept saying to God was, “I don’t have the time to do this.” But what I kept hearing back from God was, “When will you ever have the time?” There is never a perfect time to engage in such a serious and detailed long-range planning effort, but I truly feel this is necessary for us to fulfill the mission Jesus has entrusted to us in this local church.
    When was the last time the archdiocese held a synod?
    The last synod came in the final years of Archbishop Hannan’s ministry. It was a seven-year process that finally concluded in 1987, the year Pope John Paul II came to New Orleans. I can guarantee everyone that this will not be a seven-year process! We hope to start this synod – which is the Ninth General Synod for the archdiocese – in January 2014 and promulgate the plan in no more than 18 months. It will be a lot of work, but I see incredible benefits coming from this self-assessment.
    How important is the feedback you receive from Catholics in the archdiocese?
    It’s critically important. After we gather all the information from the listening sessions, we will form 10 to 15 questions that the synod will address. This doesn’t mean putting any of our current ministry on hold. We are doing wonderful work in this archdiocese in terms of sacramental ministry, Catholic education, religious education, youth ministry and outreach to the needy. But we can always grow in effectiveness.
    Some people may view the synod, especially through the lens of Katrina, as a way for the archdiocese to consolidate parishes.
    I want to say up front that this is not a precursor to closing or merging any parishes. We have been through that experience after Katrina. I know there may be some concerns about that, but this synod is a process to identify specific diocesan priorities and goals that can be clearly measured. This can be a life-giving process of renewal. This won’t be a process that produces 200 or 300 goals. It’s kind of hard to focus on 300 things at once! We hope to come up with one unifying theme for the next three years, and perhaps three pastoral priorities. This will help us assess which ongoing ministries are foundational to the archdiocese. It also will allow us to allocate proper resources to those foundational ministries. The goals we come up with will be what are called “SMART” goals. That’s an acronym for Specific/Measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. This will help us foster the kingdom of God among us.
    Is there a general timeline?
    We will be in the preparation phase from October through December. I will appoint members to five teams that will focus on foundational ministries: Sacraments and Worship, Education and Formation, Governance and Finance, Social Services and Outreach, and Vocations and Evangelization. Guiding the entire process will be a Synod Leadership Team, composed of 10 to 12 members, that will help discern the overall themes, priorities, goals and implementation plans. The listening sessions will run in the spring and summer of 2014, and that will be followed by several  months of evaluation and discernment. We will promulgate the plan with a major liturgical celebration.
    What are you asking of local Catholics?
    We need everyone’s prayers invoking the Holy Spirit during our months of discernment. And on another level, we encourage the full participation of people in the listening sessions. We need everyone’s heart, mind and spirit in order for the synod to bear fruit. 
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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