Meeting for first time, members begin ‘hard work’ of preparing for archdiocese-wide gathering
Macomb — After months of meetings, dialogue gatherings, conferences and homilies, Synod 16 is starting to take shape.
St. Isidore Parish in Macomb hosted the first of four regional gatherings of synod members Sept. 24, where approximately 120 of the synod’s nearly 400 members heard reports and got a first look at the structure and propositions to be discussed at the archdiocese-wide gathering.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron began the day with a few brief remarks to the synod members as they begin the “final approach” to Synod 16, which will take place Nov. 18-20 at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit.
The northeast regional meeting, which will be followed in the coming weeks by regional gatherings of synod members in the archdiocese’s northwest, south and central regions, was the first opportunity for synod members to pray, reflect and prepare together before the synod event itself unfolds in November.
“St. Paul didn’t say, ‘Be smart, and make sure we have a good branding formula,’” Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Byrnes told the synod members. “He said, ‘Pray, have strength, and know Jesus has plans for us.’ Something has to change; we know that. But only in confidence in Jesus can we do all that God desires us to do.”
During the gathering, synod members learned what the synod itself will look like, including the propositions and vision statements members will be asked to consider in relation to the synod’s four themes: individuals, families, parishes and Archdiocesan Central Services.
“The most profound thing we can offer Detroit is the Gospel of Jesus Christ to communities that are struggling,” Bishop Byrnes said. “God wants to stretch our hearts today and all days throughout the archdiocese. So we can do the hard work, the civic engagement. So expect more from God, expect more for what He can do for our communities.”
The “hard work” means ministering to a diverse local Church that features 224 parishes, 92 schools and five institutions of higher learning, all spanning a six-county region in southeast Michigan. Recognizing the diversity that exists within the Archdiocese of Detroit is critical to beginning the journey toward a more effective evangelization strategy, said Leon Dixon Jr., director of Black Catholic Ministries for the archdiocese.
“Historically, we’re a diverse Church, but that dynamic has changed and will continue to change,” Dixon said. “Parish leadership rarely represents the people who don’t feel included. How we feel about people, how we perceive them, how we learn about them, is going to be critical if we are to become the evangelizing Church who reaches out to people.”
Dixon challenged synod members to be mindful of their parishes’ diversity when praying about and discussing topics at the synod.
“On a personal level, I must believe when I’m looking at you, I’m seeing a mirror of God,” Dixon said. “We’re called to be a bold witness to Christ. We are to challenge all our boundaries in our parish, being mindful of others in the community.”
The regional gathering also featured reports from the four main committees established to address the needs and concerns the archdiocese must address in order to become a “joyful band of missionary disciples.”
While the work of the four committees on clergy, lay ecclesial ministry, family and intercessory prayer will extend beyond the synod, the results of their fact-finding missions formed part of the greater data that will form the backdrop to the synod. The presentations were meant to draw comments and concerns to the attention of synod members, who in turn could take into account different perspectives of church life during the synod discussions.
Fr. Andrew Kowalczyk, CSMA, of pastor St. Clare of Montefalco Parish in Grosse Pointe Park, presented the findings of the clergy committee.
“We asked priests and deacons what they understood about the New Evangelization,” Fr. Kowalczyk said of his committee’s survey of 156 archdiocesan priests, 63 religious, 37 senior priests and 92 permanent deacons. “They wanted the synod to help people foster a relationship with Jesus, preach his Word and a clear plan with everyone in on the plan.”
Deacon Bill Kolarik, northeast regional coordinator of parish life and services for the archdiocese, relayed the work of a separate committee, the synod synthesis team, which was tasked with collecting and organizing data from the 240 parish dialogue gatherings held throughout the archdiocese in preparation for the synod.
The synthesis team, Deacon Kolarik said, was tasked with reading and categorizing 11,130 responses from parishioners into workable, organized categories for discussion at the synod.
“We found that 62 percent of the responses focused on 10 themes, which in turn led the forming of our synod propositions,” Deacon Kolarik said. “Bishop Byrnes led a team of seven to meet for five daylong sessions. Each began with a significant amount of prayer, as they met to read and reflect on responses, listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying.”
At the synod event, synod members will then consider the dozens of specific propositions developed from the sessions, discerning which among them to recommend to Archbishop Vigneron for his discernment in leading the archdiocese forward.
For the synod members, it was their first look at the specifics and a chance to ask questions after months of intense prayer and spiritual preparation.
“I feel much better now that there is some firm, concreate ideas for us to pray and reflect on,” said synod member Victoria Meiburg of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in North Branch. “Now that I know and understand the direction this is all going, I think I’ll come to the synod from the perspective of my community, where I live, and talk to people at my table with all these different groups and people in mind.”
The propositions themselves, which will be revealed to the remaining synod members at their three subsequent regional gatherings, generated the most discussion and reflection at the meeting at St. Isidore.
Frank Giglio of St. Ronald Parish in Clinton Township said he thinks the propositions are the right direction for the synod and the Church at large, leading to healthy conversations as the archdiocese moves ahead in its mission.
“I think they’re going in the right direction, starting with the needs of individuals and from there going outward,” Giglio said. “The way they presented the propositions puts everyone at a good start, setting up the groups and showing how the propositions developed as we go forward to the synod.”