‘We are all called to be saints in the world today’
At the end of September, all Synod Members gathered at The Edge (Wigan) to receive the report from the listening stage of our Synod journey and to hear the announcement of the four themes that have emerged from all the listening that has taken place from February to July. (Isle of Man Synod Members had their own special event on Saturday 12 October in Onchan.)
Over 20,000 people took part in the parish listening, in the online survey, in the schools and young people’s listening and in the many focus groups. All of the information was read and sent to Hope University and under the guidance of Father Peter McGrail this was presented to the Synod working party in August. You can read his report on the Synod website after Synod Sunday. On a three-day retreat the working party prayed, read, shared, discerned and eventually four themes emerged.
These four themes will give us all the opportunity to listen some more, to reflect and eventually to make proposals for action to the Synod which will be voted on and which will guide the Archbishop in the writing of a Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese.
The themes are:
• All called and gifted by God
• Sharing the mission of Jesus
• How we pray together
• Building community, nurturing belonging
In Theme One: ‘All called and gifted by God’ we are invited to reflect on the vocation that God has given to each one of us. One of the priests in the listening for priests’ event said: ‘We are all called to be saints in the world today.’ A Carmelite sister said: ‘Our vocation is to get to heaven ourselves and help others get there.’ This theme invites us to reflect on some of these questions:
• How do we live out our Baptismal vocation?
• How do we promote a culture of vocation and discernment?
• How do young people grow, contribute and flourish as part of our communities?
• How can we make good faith formation available to all?
• How do we promote an understanding of leadership?
• How do we understand of the kind of leadership we need?
• How do we promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life?
In Theme Two: ‘Sharing the Mission of Jesus’ we are invited to hear again the call to be sent out into the world to proclaim the Good News to the whole of creation. In one of the school listening events a head of RE said: ‘The Church is the compassionate face of Jesus in the world today.’ A deacon said: ‘We must have greater courage in expressing our faith.’ This theme invites us to reflect on some of these questions:
• How do we more effectively evangelise and lead people to a deeper relationship with Christ?
• How do we show the compassionate love of Christ in our work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, in our acts of charit, and our works of mercy?
• How can the parish rise to the challenge of sharing the mission of Jesus?
In Theme Three: ‘How we pray together’ we are invited to reflect on the place of prayer and worship in our Church. Someone who filled in the online survey said: ‘Pray and when you finish praying … pray some more.’ Another online response said: ‘I fear a sacramentally starved, lonely, old age.’ This theme invites us to reflect on some of these questions:
• How do we help people engage more profoundly with the Sunday Mass?
• How do we deepen our understanding and appreciation of what full and active participation in the Eucharist means?
• How can our Church buildings be places of prayerfulness and peace in a busy world?
• How does prayer connect with our everyday life?
In Theme Four: ‘Building community, nurturing belonging’ we are invited to reflect on what it means to be a Church of discipleship and welcome. A young person in Lourdes who took part in a listening event said: ‘The Church can create experiences where strangers can become family.’ Another online suggestion was: ‘The church buildings should be open all day so that we can make use of them for more than an hour a week.’ This theme invites us to reflect on some of these questions:
• How do we hand on our faith?
• How can we be welcoming and inviting?
• How can we support the home, school, parish partnership?
• How do we reach out to those who feel excluded, on the margins, weak or vulnerable?
• How could parishes work together?
Synod Sunday 2019:
13 October was designated as the 2nd Synod Sunday. This is also the day on which Pope Francis declared Blessed John Henry Newman a saint of the Church. This seems hardly a coincidence. Cardinal Newman was a great scholar but also a great pastor. He brought his many and varied gifts to the service of the Church in this country. First of all to the Church of England and then to the Roman Catholic Church.
Father Andrew Unsworth wrote this about Saint John Henry Newman: ‘He is often portrayed as a great defender of the role of conscience in the Christian life and so he was, especially as conscience guides conduct. However, conscience must also be understood in the context of Christian obedience to the teachings of Revelation and the interpretations and judgements of the Church’s Magisterium. Cardinal Newman is often quoted as saying in connection with the need to consult the people of God: “I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: Go down again - I dwell among the people.”’
It seems right and fitting that this next part of our Synod journey, which will involve more listening and discerning – the Themes to Proposals stage – should be under the intercession of St John Henry.
What happens next?
On Synod Sunday a leaflet was given to every Mass-goer describing the themes and next stages of the Synod journey. With this was an invitation to engage in reflecting on the themes and to make suggestions about proposals for action that could become part of what will be voted on in the Synod itself in October 2020. There was also a postcard with the Synod prayer and the four themes.
At the start of September Archbishop Malcolm was invited to go to the Vatican to give a talk to all newly appointed Bishops from across the world on the importance of Synodality and on our Archdiocesan Synod. So Pope Francis has already heard something of what we have done, something of what we have said, and the Archbishop has made a commitment to share with the Holy Father and all in the Vatican the outcome of these next stages of our Synod journey as we try to become the Church that God is calling us to be.