The 16th General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality in Rome was truly an unprecedented experience for me. We began with a three-day retreat, time for personal prayer, and orienting ourselves to the method of having a conversation in the Spirit. Then the themes of communion, mission and participation were introduced in each successive week beginning with a spiritual and theological reflection, followed by testimonies which demonstrated the worldwide reality of the Church.
Each day we sat at 35 circular tables in Paul VI Hall. There was prayer, the sharing of our insights on the themes, a process of mutual listening in communion with the Holy Spirit and of making room for silence. This process reflects a path of discernment which provided moments of pastoral conversion. It was evident that there was a deep desire and commitment discern the “sensus fidelium” to hear the voice of the baptized, both men and women, and through this encounter to experience the complementarity of the vocations and charisms that are found within the life of the Church.
I encountered brother bishops from South Africa, Sudan, Nigeria and the Congo, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, the Cook Islands, Japan, and the United States. Our conversations often led to sharing about the nature of our dioceses, the challenges that we face, what keeps us up at night but always with a good sense of humor and laughter.
As was noted in the Letter to the People of God the Synod took place amidst the unfolding of a world crisis which continues today. The violence of war, acts of aggression and injustices prompted the delegates to be a witness of solidarity through prayer for the victims of deadly violence around the world. We gathered in moments of silent vigil, processions through St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica in praying the rosary and in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
It was a privilege for me to be present at the Synod, it was definitely a learning experience, but one that was also very ascetical. Day by day there was a discipline that was required which was both physical and spiritual similar to what is required when entering into a time of retreat. It was also a very long time to be away from the Diocese of Calgary despite trying to stay in touch through zoom meetings that resulted in several late evenings in Rome. The opening of the Synod in Rome on October 4th coincided with the decision to launch our Diocesan Renewal on the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi and during the Calgary Priest Study Days in Canmore.
Our Diocesan Renewal – You are Called-You Matter-You Belong is the result of our walking together during the phase of diocesan synodal listening. This was followed by a year-long period of prayer, of further listening and discernment with a group of 25 individuals’ representative of the laity, religious, priests, deacons and myself the bishop. This two-year process of synodality has resulted in three pastoral priorities which we will focus on in the next five years:
- Forming Missionary Disciples in Christ;
- Being a Church of Encounter and Witness; and
- Strengthening the Family.
At the heart of this renewal is the invitation to conversion, to a renewed encounter with Christ which can transform our lives as individuals, families and parish communities. This is the witness of the Gospel and the ministry that Christ entrusted to the Church.
We have heard in our diocesan phase of listening that some want the Church to change, to be relevant, to deal with the issues they believe are important. This was also present on the Synod floor. Yet the Christian life and the vocation of each of us is to develop a deeper relationship with Christ. This will change the Church and provide us with pathways to pastorally meet the issues that are important for our people.
#RenewalGathering in Calgary
On Saturday, at Mary Mother of Redeemer Parish in Calgary, we held our first Diocesan Renewal Gathering. The enthusiasm for this event meant that we had to close registration early in the week. Those in attendance were in excess of 480 which was more than on the Synod floor in Rome! I won’t fail to mention this to Pope Francis when I meet with him the next time in Rome!
These diocesan gatherings began with Mass, followed by an experience of communion, of coming together in faith to pray and reflect on the Word of God, to see how the encounter of Zacchaeus with Jesus could transform our lives. I did share some of my experiences of the Synod but wanted to show that the synodal path of listening and discernment have been guiding our initiatives of renewal in the Diocese of Calgary.
We continued to hold two more Diocesan Renewal Gatherings in Lethbridge and High River, and then this Monday, Nov. 13 in Medicine Hat (register here). I encourage all of the faithful to become engaged and to learn more about this renewal in this orientation phase.
As one bishop stated at the Synod with respect to pastoral renewal and change “it is better to take smaller steps with more people that to take larger steps with fewer people”. In a similar way and guided by the Holy Spirit “let us take smaller steps but walk together” on this path of renewal for our Diocese.