Synod process guided by Holy Spirit
Wearing his red vestments on Pentecost Sunday, Archbishop Gregory Aymond invoked the fire of the Holy Spirit inside St. Louis Cathedral.
In bringing the yearlong Ninth General Synod of the Archdiocese of New Orleans to a conclusion on May 24, Archbishop Aymond said the same Holy Spirit that had emboldened a frightened band of apostles, locked in the Upper Room for fear of being executed for their faith in Christ, also had guided the Archdiocese of New Orleans 2,000 years later during its intense synod process.
A large poster board beneath the cathedral ambo, where the archbishop delivered his homily, proclaimed the synod’s unifying vision – “Encountering Jesus, Witnessing with Joy” – and listed the five broad priorities for future ministry for the archdiocese over the next three to five years.
The synod began last April and will officially conclude in September when the archbishop releases the 18 specific goals that fall in line with the five general priorities.
Encounter leads to witness
Reflecting on the role of the Holy Spirit during the year of prayer and discernment, Archbishop Aymond said Catholics, by virtue of their baptism and confirmation, “are sent to be witnesses of our faith, to bring the Risen Christ and his message to others.”
“That has always been challenging – from the early church to today,” the archbishop said, noting that modern society often values the individual over the common good; revenge and violence over peace and respect for human life; and atheism over belief in God.
“In these circumstances, the Holy Spirit sends us to be witnesses in our world, and we must be open to that Spirit, even when we grow tired,” he said, calling the synod year a chance to “read the signs of the times and interpret those in light of the Gospel.”
The five priorities for future ministry are to:
1. Form welcoming communities who celebrate our unity in diversity. “We as church are committed to becoming a more welcoming community, where all are welcomed and all are respected, even those who do not agree or understand,” the archbishop said.
2. Embrace Christ in every family, parish and ministry. “We will provide opportunities for people to have a more personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “We also want to reach out to those who are away from the church, hurt by the church or those who, for whatever reason, have just grown cold.”
3. Minister to families, youth and young adults. “So often our young people hear so many voices in the world today,” Archbishop Aymond said. “Some of those voices are so contrary to who we are as disciples of Christ. We want our youth and young people to be important priorities.”
4. Prepare servant leaders for the church. “We want to identify people who may be called to priesthood, the diaconate and religious life, but also to lay ecclesial ministry,” he said. “We want to awaken that call.”
5. Be a voice and witness for Catholic Social Teaching. “We cannot neglect the poor, the undocumented immigrant, those on death row or those who sometimes become the victims of the criminal justice system,” Archbishop Aymond said. “We will invite all our parishes to take part in that outreach and witness so that we can truly live Catholic Social Teaching. We can’t wait for (people) to come to us.”
Doing more with our faith
Reflecting on the unifying vision, Archbishop Aymond said the “encounter” with Christ comes first, but it is not enough.
“We must then go forth and give witness to the Good News of the Gospel,” he said. “Just as the Holy Spirit helped the apostles to witness with joy, that same Holy Spirit helps us witness to others.”
Several members of the Synod Leadership Team, which helped fashion the final priorities based on input from more than 4,000 parishioners across the archdiocese, attended the Mass. They said they were thrilled by the results.
“This has been a Spirit-filled process, and to celebrate it on Pentecost is so very appropriate,” said Dr. Dereck Rovaris, a parishioner of St. Peter Claver Parish. “As we deliberated for months even on the selection of the five words for our theme, there was so much prayer and deliberation that went into this. The only explanation for our success is that the Holy Spirit was working through it.
A ‘blueprint’ for future
“The only reason I got involved is that I’m hoping this will give us a blueprint for how we should behave as an archdiocese,” Rovaris added. “I’m very pleased with the inclusion language we used. We’re looking at all members of the archdiocese – the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, those who are incarcerated, those who represent different ethnic groups who may not feel fully part of the church, the youth. So it’s very encompassing but also challenging.”
Kurt Bindewald, director of university ministry at Loyola University New Orleans, said he felt the Holy Spirit moving by allowing the leadership team to reach consensus on every issue.
“Many of us would get to the meetings thinking this task was really beyond us because there was so much to think about,” Bindewald said. “But by the end, as we discussed and as we prayed, we really were coming together as a group.”
“What a lot of people are going to see with these priorities is that they’re really nothing new,” Bindewald added. “They are things we’ve been called to do for centuries. We’re just going to be doing them with renewed focus and joy.”
Marianite Sister Judy Gomila said when the 18 specific goals are announced in September, it will give people a chance to see the full document.
“This gives us a powerful step in the right direction,” Sister Judy said. “Like Paul Harvey, I know the rest of the story – people have seen the priorities, but they have not seen the specific goals and the things we’re going to do.
“If we can get our parishes on board, we will see a whole new face of the church. It’s not that we haven’t been doing good things, but with that Spirit bubbling up within us, if we can get our parishes on board, there will be a lot more unity among us, even in the midst of our diversity.”