More than 11K responses received from parishioners, others across archdiocese
DETROIT— What, specifically, will be discussed during Synod 2016, no one yet knows — not even the archbishop himself.
But thanks to the participation of thousands of people in 240 parish dialogue gatherings held throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit from March through June, the synod secretariat is closer than ever to finding out.
“That’s the hallmark of a great shepherd,” said Deacon Bill Kolarik, regional coordinator for parish life and services and a member of the secretariat who is helping synthesize the 11,131 responses collected from the gatherings. “The archbishop from the beginning has said, ‘I have no idea what this is going to look like.’ What he does know is that he desires to see a change in the culture of the archdiocese, so that we would become a truly missionary archdiocese and be a force for change in the culture of southeast Michigan.”
To do that, Deacon Kolarik said, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron has emphasized the parish dialogue gatherings as an opportunity to hear from the entire archdiocese about their ideas, concerns and experiences before the synod members meet in the fall to discuss ways for the archdiocese to better fulfill its evangelizing mission.
The gatherings were structured around the threefold themes of “Encounter,” “Grow” and “Witness,” with participants invited to prayerfully consider and engage in conversation about how each of the themes is manifested on a personal, parish and archdiocesan level
After praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance and gathering for a meal, “we would begin the evening with ‘Encounter’ and give them a formation piece — what does ‘encounter’ mean? What does it look like to encounter Christ?” Deacon Kolarik said. “Once we gave them that formation, then they would be released to work on those questions: how have you encountered Christ? How has your parish leadership helped you to encounter Christ, and how has the AOD done likewise?”
Each participant was given 5-15 minutes to gather their thoughts and record them on paper before engaging in a table discussion. Afterward, each table reported its top themes to the larger group, with the process being repeated for “Grow” and “Witness.”
‘All kinds of creative ideas’
Of the 181 parishes that participated, perhaps none took the process more seriously than St. Hugo of the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, which sponsored five separate dialogue gatherings for parishioners as well as another specifically for men and women religious of the archdiocese.
Sr. Barbara Rund, OP, pastoral associate at St. Hugo, said the gatherings ranged from 20 to 60 people, each of whom had something unique to contribute.
“There were all kinds of creative ideas that came forward. We were privileged to have the ‘Come, Encounter Christ’ missions here, and people really enjoyed that opportunity and really wanted to see more of the same,” said Sr. Rund, who facilitated St. Hugo’s gatherings. “I think people were really hungering for opportunities for prayer, opportunities for Bible study, and adult faith formation came out pretty strong. They liked all that and they wanted to see more opportunities to grow in their faith.”
Sr. Rund said it was good to see members of the parish council, finance council and various commissions interacting with parishioners and discussing ways to make the parish better.
“There were two main concerns that seemed to come up regularly: one was a concern for the youth, and the second was a concern about people not coming to church, and that we need to do something and invite people,” Sr. Rund said.
Priests of the archdiocese held their own dialogue gathering in June, Deacon Kolarik said, both to hear from them specifically and to allow parishioners to more freely speak their minds.
“We kind of encouraged that so that parishioners would be more open and (the presence of a priest) wouldn’t hinder their responses,” Deacon Kolarik said. “We didn’t want people to say ‘Oh, I can’t say that because Father won’t like that.’”
Colleen Booth, a volunteer and parishioner at St. Hugo, said the dialogue gatherings were “one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
“Everybody had different input; it was really interesting,” Booth said. “There was great conversation from many different perspectives about these different topics. You heard ideas that you didn’t even think of yourself.”
A lifelong Catholic, Booth said she used to equate evangelization with “old-time Protestantism — stomping around, holding little church meetings out in the country or something” — but said her perspective is changing.
“In the beginning, it kind of rankled me. It didn’t seem to be anything that was ‘Catholic,’ so to speak,” Booth said. “But now I think it’s a very good thing, and if our Church is going to grow and bring people back, we need to evangelize.”
Looking to the fall
The next step, Deacon Kolarik said, is for the synod synthesis team to take each of the responses and categorize them according to topic, taking into consideration the comments received from different groups — priests, religious, lay faithful, etc. — and present them to the synod leadership team with the goal of developing actionable propositions for the synod members to consider this fall.
“Through the month of July, the synthesis team will evaluate, discuss and work out what was heard, what does it mean, and where do we go with these responses relative to these constituent groups,” Deacon Kolarik said. “By the end of July we hope to have those propositions drafted out, which will then go to the leadership team for final discussion, debate and final ratification hopefully by the middle of August.”
Synod members will first consider the themes and propositions at four regional gatherings in September and October in order to prepare to pray and discuss their impact during the three-day synod Nov. 18-20 at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit, Deacon Kolarik said.
“The ultimate goal is to provide that feedback to the archbishop,” he said. “What is the Holy Spirit telling the lay faithful through these synod members?”