Synod vision: ‘Encountering Jesus, Witnessing with Joy’
Culminating more than a year of prayer, study and consultation that fueled the Ninth General Synod of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond will promulgate on Pentecost Sunday, May 24, a “unifying vision” and five “priorities” for ministry for the archdiocese over the next three to five years.
The archbishop will release the local synod’s unifying vision – “Encountering Jesus, Witnessing with Joy” – and the five priorities for ministry at the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, televised by WLAE-TV and live-streamed at arch-no.org. Specific goals that fall under each priority are nearing completion and will be released in September after a few more rounds of consultation with various archdiocesan councils, Archbishop Aymond said.
“I am deeply grateful to the thousands of people who have participated in this prayerful process of listening to the Holy Spirit and helping us move forward with some specific priorities for our local church in order that we can foster God’s kingdom among us,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Aymond connected the promulgation of the synod document to Pentecost Sunday “because it is truly the Holy Spirit who has given us wisdom and guided us through this process.”
“At Pentecost, the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, and in the midst of their fear and confusion, the Spirit of God gave them courage and sent them forth to be witnesses of Jesus in the world,” he said. “It is in that same spirit that we come before God today, needing his wisdom. Sometimes we are confused and afraid, as the disciples were, and it’s only through the power of the Spirit that we can come to know what God expects from us and how we can best live that out.”
The unifying vision – “Encountering Jesus, Witnessing with Joy” – is the result of “a great deal of thought and prayer,” the archbishop said, and reflects the recent calls of both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis for Catholics to embrace the “new evangelization.”
“The unifying vision is calling us as a local church to do everything humanly possible to enable people to encounter personally the Risen Lord Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Aymond said. “But, as we know, encountering him is not enough. Through that encounter, Jesus sends us forth to give witness to him and his love to others, and we are called to do that in a spirit of joy because the Gospel is, indeed, good news.
“The new evangelization calls us to enable people to come to a deeper, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. At the same time, we are sent to give witness to those who are away from the church or those who do not know Christ or those who may have grown cold in their relationship with God. The new evangelization also calls us to share our faith, not only with those nearby, but also with all those in mission lands.”
Five priorities listed
The five priorities for future ministry, which build upon each other, are as follows:
➤ 1. Form welcoming communities who celebrate our unity in diversity.
“Sometimes our church is perceived as not being welcoming, and we have to make sure we do welcome people,” Archbishop Aymond said. “This is done in liturgy and in all we undertake. Secondly, the welcome should honor our diversity in race and in culture – acknowledging our differences but calling us to be one in Christ. If we are not a welcoming community, then the other priorities cannot be achieved.”
➤ 2. Embrace Christ in every family, parish and ministry.
“Once we are a welcoming community,” the archbishop said, “then we have the opportunity to invite individuals, families and all of our parishes and institutions to come to know more deeply who Christ is, in order that they may be more open and touched by his love and mercy.”
➤ 3. Minister to families, youth and young adults.
“Once we have allowed Christ to enter into our lives and into our hearts, then we are to witness to that in our families and among young people and young adults,” Archbishop Aymond said. “This recalls for us the importance of family life – that our faith is to be lived within the family but cannot remain within the family. It must reach out and touch others. Consistently throughout the synod process, there was an emphasis on raising up family life – enriching marriage and family life and also making sure the church gives very special attention to our youth and young adults.”
➤ 4. Prepare servant leaders for the church.
“Once we have built up a sense of family and a respect for family life, then we are called to look at the ways in which we can provide leaders for the future of the church, especially servant leaders,” the archbishop said. “We are certainly mindful of all families embracing the call to holiness and, within that context, to encourage vocations to the priesthood, to the diaconate and to consecrated life for women and men. But we also include in this priority the training and preparation of people who are called to lay ministry. We want to do that in a more deliberate and effective way.”
➤ 5. Be a voice and witness for Catholic Social Teaching.
“Our living of faith cannot be just internal – within our own families or within the Catholic Church,” the archbishop said. “We must reach out to others, especially those who are in need, those who at times are forgotten or neglected. Catholic Social Teaching calls us to care for the poor and to reach out to them. Catholic Social Teaching is sometimes not understood by many people, so there will be specific ways in which we will continue to reach out to them in order to promote the life and dignity of each person.”
Process began last spring
The synod process started last April when Archbishop Aymond convoked the synod at the Chrism Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. Nearly 4,000 people participated in 17 consultative sessions throughout the archdiocese during the summer of 2014.
Participants were asked three questions: What was the archdiocese doing well in terms of current ministry? What could the archdiocese do better? What could the archdiocese do in the future that it was not currently doing?
The feedback from those sessions as well as from online responses was handed to two groups: the 12-member Synod Leadership Team, responsible for synthesizing the vision, priorities and goals, and seven “ministry focus” teams, which looked at the information through the perspective of their respective ministry area.
The unifying vision and priorities came together in the last two months as the Leadership Team gathered to distill the large amount of information into five priorities.
“It was important to have no more than five priorities because we wanted to make sure that what we proposed and approved was achievable,” Archbishop Aymond said. “If we were to come up with more than five priorities, it’s very questionable whether we would have the time or the resources to implement them in a faith-filled way.”
Archbishop Aymond has appointed John Smestad Jr., the outgoing director of the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, to serve as head of the newly created Pastoral Planning and Ministries Office to “creatively enable us to implement the synod document – not only the priorities, but each of the goals.”
“John will oversee that implementation and be the person calling the various archdiocesan departments to work together with parishes, schools and other Catholic institutions,” the archbishop said. “We were very conscious during the synod process not to, at the end, just give to pastors or to schools or Catholic institutions new initiatives that we are to implement. The priorities, as well as the goals, will be able to be achieved through the assistance of the archdiocesan staff helping those in ministry and should not be a financial burden on our parishes and other ministries.”
Archbishop Aymond said he also hopes parishes will be able to identify parishioners who will help with the implementation of the synod document.
There are about 18 goals currently being discussed to go along with the five priorities. Archbishop Aymond called the goals “the ways in which we will specifically live out those priorities.” He said the goals have gone through several drafts and will be reviewed over the summer by the Presbyteral Council, the Council of Deans and the Ministerial Council before they are released in September.
“It’s important that we have these groups’ insight into these goals because they will be key in carrying them out,” Archbishop Aymond said.
Opening statement The document also includes an opening statement that commits the archdiocese to:
➤ Providing the resources – human and financial – to implement the unifying vision, priorities and goals;
➤ Assessing our facilities in order to ensure the appropriate use of all available resources;
➤ Ensuring Catholic education is accessible to our families as we implement the Catholic Schools Strategic Plan.
“Sometimes we can dream about many possibilities, but unless we provide the financial resources and the buildings in order to accomplish them, they remain just a dream,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We heard consistently throughout the consultation sessions that people are looking for greater availability of Catholic education, specifically affordable Catholic education. That is indeed a tremendous challenge because of the cost in operating a school. Nonetheless, we are committed to continuing to look at that through the strategic plan on Catholic schools and to make good use of scholarship programs that are available.”
Schools work under own plan
The synod document did not include a great deal of additional information about Catholic schools, the archbishop said, because the schools office had just completed its exhaustive strategic planning process in 2013.
“Catholic schools have their own separate document, which was promulgated two years ago,” he said. “The two documents, in some ways, dovetail.”
Archbishop Aymond said the yearlong synod process was a worthwhile effort and a great blessing.
“It has taken a great deal of time and effort, but I believe it was truly worth it and a great blessing to have gone through the process with so many people and to have discerned God’s guidance for us for the next several years,” he said. “I’m indebted to all who have worked so hard.
“We are doing good things in the archdiocese, and that came through in the consultation sessions. But as Christians, we can’t just rest on our laurels. We always have to move forward. We have to ask the question, ‘God, thank you for what we have today and what we have been able to accomplish, with your help – where are you leading us tomorrow?’”