Synod members say Church must focus on lifelong human, spiritual formation, not just sacramental prep
DETROIT — When the Holy Spirit takes root in the individual, it will inevitably spread to the family and surrounding community.
Synod 16 members gathered back at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel Nov. 19 for day two of the archdiocesan-wide function, discussing how to develop a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church’s families and parishes.
The day began with a focus on the families, the main source of faith formation in the Church and the connection all Catholics have with Jesus Christ, who himself was born into a family.
“We talked about different things about the family and the need to draw in all age groups,” said Patricia Senneville of St. Mary Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish in Rockwood. “We talked about the different resources from catechesis to all the different kinds of men’s and women’s groups parishes need to have. We need to make sure all age groups are addressed, and I’m glad we’ve built a good consensus that everyone seems to be on the same page with.”
The second day of the synod also featured its first round of voting, with synod members asked to come to a consensus about the priorities of the archdiocese when it comes to evangelizing families.
“We talked about 18- to 30-year-olds as unintentionally being an ignored group. After they’re confirmed no one talks to them until they’re married and have children,” said Heywan Weldeab of St. Elizabeth Parish in Detroit.
Weldeab said a suggestion came up in her group actively invite young people to take up a role in parish life, making them feel like more than an “in-between” demographic in the pews.
“With that invitation, you feel willing to do more, you feel valued,” Weldeab said. “Young people want to join in more participation in the Church; they’re just waiting. You feel more than just a person who’s not married, not old and not a kid.”
Groups who voted for either proposition had a chance to send a representative to the microphone to talk about what they discussed. An overall theme, regardless of the voting results, was a need for ongoing formation beyond basic sacramental preparations.
An overall theme, regardless of the voting results, was a need for ongoing formation beyond basic sacramental preparations.
“We have to develop very specific programs,” said Mike Merlo of Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn Hills. “Maybe after marriage prep, we need to have
marriage renewal every five years or so, because our lives change in the years after we receive the sacraments.”
During the large group session, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron took notes on the responses and prepared brief remarks before introducing the parishes theme.
“One thing that seemed to be mentioned a lot was the virtue of hospitality, opening the circle up,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The good news is, that what we have about marriage is the good news, that someone can love you your entire life. That no, we don’t need to compromise, it does take sacrifice, but it works.”
Building a parish of encounter
They synod then transitioned to the second theme of the day, parishes, the “field hospitals for mercy,” as Pope Francis has called them.
The parish theme offered many more propositions and ideas for synod members to consider, as clergy and laity discussed what needs to be done at parishes to best offer the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Barbara Adragna of St. Thecla Parish in Clinton Township told The Michigan Catholic her table discussed the need for a parish-wide vision for evangelization, similar to what was discussed at April’s Amazing Parish Conference.
“The parish isn’t just staff, it’s every level from the cleaning person to the pastor, everyone in the office to everyone in the pews,” Adragna said. “Everybody who comes to a parish needs something, and we need to listen to the prompting from the Holy Spirit and figure out how best to bring Jesus to them.”
The small table groups also gave clergy a chance to hear feedback from the laity, offering a perspective many priests might not always get.
“The people at my table are excellent, they came prepared and I learned a lot,” said Fr. Joseph Gembala, pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Sterling Heights. “The synod has gone beyond my wildest hopes, excitement, joy and prayers. I think the key for priests is to listen to your parish. The Holy Spirit works in all of us, and we need to work together.”
During the large group session, synod members again offered their thoughts on which propositions to recommend to the archbishop.
The first set of propositions focused on parish culture, specifically, building a culture than encourages a personal encounter with Jesus and is gracious, hospitable and inclusive.
Synod members discussed to varying degrees the benefits of each proposition, but focused on the priority of developing an evangelizing culture in each parish.
“All the propositions are important … but it’s hard to separate one from the other,” said Fr. Gary Wright, SJ, of SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Parish in Detroit. “We put the dot on B, but we wanted to include A. We need to intentionally develop a parish that builds a culture of encountering Jesus, then that culture needs to become one that conquers division of race and economics within our parish.”
Groups that voted for themes that didn’t receive a large amount of votes had time on the floor to explain their group’s thinking.
“We looked at prayer and inviting and connecting and building a relationship with people. It’s important, and we felt prayer was so strong in what we do,” said Dawn Dwyer of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Redford Township. “We ended up picking C (“Facilitate meaningful personal connections within and outside the parish in the form of small groups and other community-building initiatives”).
We need to incorporate evangelization both in and out of the parish, because it leads to openings for other types of encounters.”
Other groups drew on lessons from discussions on the first day, on individuals.
“In our group, we felt an encounter with Jesus Christ was the main thing,” said Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, CSSF, delegate for religious for the Archdiocese of Detroit, adding her group also discussed the importance of prayer groups in showing people how to have an encounter with Jesus.
Following the end of the group session, Archbishop Vigneron again thanked all involved for their work.
“I’m the luckiest priest in the world to have all of you,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “To connect with Christ is to connect with others, person to person. This community is more than a community, it’s a communion — a communion with Christ that we are calling others to be.”
While most of the propositions in the synod sessions on individuals and families were “aspirational” in nature, or designed to get synod members thinking about their own personal relationship with Christ, Saturday’s session asked members to identify one of two specific projects for Archdiocesan Central Services to pursue. Forty-six tables cast votes:
56.5 percent, (26 votes) : Envision and develop a plan for ongoing human and spiritual formation for all stages of life (e.g. children, youth, adults and seniors).
43.5 percent, (20 votes) : Envision and develop processes for sacramental preparation, and for marriage preparation in particular, modeled after the practices and phases of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and focusing of conversion to a life of missionary discipleship, catechesis on the sacrament, small group dynamics, mentoring and ongoing formation.
For the parishes theme, synod members were asked to identify which single proposition would be most helpful to the task of building missionary parishes in three key areas: Parish Culture, Parish Functions and Parish Leadership. Of the 46 tables, here are the propositions that received the most votes in each category:
48.9 percent, (22.5 votes) : Build a culture of personal encounter with Jesus that permeates every aspect of parish life and that leads to a loving encounter of our neighbor.
Parish Functions (Pray, Invite, Connect, Mentor, Send)
26 percent, (12 votes) : Equip, empower, and support individuals and families in mission (e.g. evangelization, social and economic transformation, and spiritual and corporal works of mercy)
39.2 percent, (18 votes) : Establish pastoral leadership teams as a normative practice, where team members develop shared responsibility and accountability both to the vision of the Archbishop and the mission of the parish. Extend the same team dynamics and practices to all parish and/or school staff.