Synods in New Orleans, Rome have spirit-filled purpose
Now that the 17 consultative sessions for the Ninth General Synod have been completed, can you tell us how the synod process is going?
The first phase has been very successful. We conducted consultative sessions in each of the 10 deaneries, which are the geographic regions of the archdiocese, and then we held other sessions for the Hispanic community, elderly, youth, young adults, religious women and men, permanent deacons and priests. About 3,800 people attended the sessions, and that’s an overwhelming level of participation. I was very much impressed and touched by what I heard, and I also was very appreciative of the comments and suggestions that people have given regarding the future of the church. I truly believe the spirit of God is alive and moving in these discussions. God is calling us to some new and broader ministries. We are now set to move into Phase 2.
You attended every session and took a lot of notes.
I literally have two tablets of notes. I decided before the sessions to draw a line down the middle of each page, and on the left-hand side I wrote down the affirming comments about what we are doing well as a church. On the right side, I wrote down the things that we could be doing better or the things that we are not doing at all. As I heard the discussions, I specifically marked some of the things I had not heard before. Now we are waiting for the summary document to be compiled by the Catholic Leadership Institute. They will take the 3,800 sheets of paper handed in by the individual participants, plus the notes that I and other members of our staff took, and they will distill all of that information using common categories and themes. That information will come back to us, and it will go to seven “ministry focus groups” that will have the task of looking at specific areas of ministry: social justice; education and formation; worship and liturgy; marriage, youth and family life; vocations; evangelization; and governance and finance.
What will happen next?
The seven ministry focus teams, which each have about seven members, will discuss that information and do two things. They will look at it from the focus of their particular area and say, this is what we believe should be the next steps regarding this area. Secondly, they will evaluate all the information, whether their area is one of the priorities or not, and they will suggest their top three to five priorities that the archdiocese should consider when the synod is implemented.
Then there is another group called the Synod Leadership Team, correct?
Yes. The Synod Leadership Team is made up of 12 people. They will receive all of information from the consultative sessions as well as all the work from the ministry focus groups. The Leadership Team’s job is to pull this together. Through several days of discussion and prayer, they will propose three to five priorities that will have goals and objectives spelled out. Each goal and objective must be measurable, and it will have a specific date for it to be accomplished so that we will be held accountable. We will have everything completed by May 24, 2015, the Feast of Pentecost.
Obviously, a lot of time, prayer and money is being invested in this process. Why is it so important?
For the last three years, I’ve been looking at the archdiocese and asking, what’s the next step? How do we grow? How do we more completely fulfill the mandate and the mission of Christ? I came up with the thought, we could do this program or we could do that program in parishes or various Catholic institutions. But the more I kept thinking and praying about it, that approach didn’t seem to produce a complete picture. Then I thought about doing a strategic plan, but that’s a secular project. I finally decided, the church provides this process of prayer and enlightened discussion and discernment, and that’s called a synod. As I continued to think and pray, God seemed to be calling me to convene a synod and to ask the people of the archdiocese to participate. When the final plan is ready, we’re going to ask every parish, school, religious education program and Catholic institution to take these priorities and to do their best to implement them. That’s going to be the important part – we’ll all have to be on the same page, working together in a collaborative way under the guidance of the Spirit.
Are there any major differences in our local synod and the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family now underway in Rome?
The process for the two synods is similar. For example, the synod on the family in Rome will be working with the results of a survey of family life that was sent to bishops throughout the world. After each bishop consulted with the laity and others in ministry, he sent in a summary of the state of the family in his local diocese – what the gifts and blessings are as well as the challenges. Each country sent a summary report to the synod office in Rome, and the synod office published what it calls an “instrumentum laboris” – a working document – which I’ve read. (The document is available at www.vatican.va; click on Roman Curia/Synod of Bishops.) It’s an excellent document that summarizes the gifts and the challenges throughout the world on marriage and family life. The bishops who attend this extraordinary synod will be going through that document and offering some discussion points and suggestions. The work being done this year will continue with discussion and research through the next year, and that will lead into Phase 2 next October in Rome with the ordinary synod on the family. At next year’s synod, the bishops are expected to make specific recommendations to the Holy Father and his closest advisers. Then Pope Francis will be given several months to do his own reflections, and he will publish an exhortation on the pastoral care of the family in this time of evangelization. We have no way of predicting what he will say, but we believe that the process will be very thorough and will be truly helpful to the church in terms of ministry and pastoral care to families in the future.
What can Catholics do now that the synods are underway?
I ask all Catholics to pray every day for the success of our synod and for the success of the synod in Rome – that we will truly do what God is calling us to do and to be.