For synod members, changing culture will require ‘willing hearts’

1-synod-1-cmykPastors, religious, laity reflect on state of Church, necessity of sharing Christ

Detroit — As Roseanne Rogers considers her role as a member of Synod 16, she’s noticed the drop in Mass attendance, the loss of young people in the pews and the decline in sacramental participation that has marked the American church since the turn of the millennium.

Yet like most of the synod’s 370-some members, that doesn’t mean she has all the answers to those vexing challenges.

“I’m concerned about the people who have fallen away from the Church who maybe were raised Catholic or attended Catholic school Mass as children and then disappeared. My own family members are included in that,” said Rogers, a synod member from St. Constance Parish in Taylor.

“I’m at a loss, too, about how we reach these people. I know we have an evangelization committee at church, and we try to do outreach and stuff like that, but I’d like it to be a little bit bigger. We need to reach more people, not just fallen-away Catholics, but those who don’t understand us as well.”

Beginning to answer those tough challenges will be the focus of the three-day synod that commences Nov. 18 at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit, where clergy, religious and laity from all across the Archdiocese of Detroit will gather to discuss and deliberate on how best to share the revitalizing message of the Gospel in southeast Michigan.

Over the summer, synod members have undertaken many forms of spiritual preparation, from reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) to regular Eucharistic adoration, including a series of 30 archdiocesan Eucharistic missions called “Come, Encounter Christ!” held in late 2015 and early 2016 to encourage local Catholics to experience Jesus in a more profound way.

For Fr. Doug Terrien, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Lapeer, preparing for the synod has involved lots of intense prayer and contemplation about the nature and purpose of evangelization.

“When I think about evangelization, I think about the apostles and the disciples and what they had,” said Fr. Terrien, who was elected as a synod member by his fellow priests in the Thumb Vicariate. “They didn’t have anything. They just stood up in the center of the town and started talking about their love for our Lord and savior. I supposed my preparation for the synod is in asking the Holy Spirit to pour out His gifts.”

For that to happen won’t take much, Fr. Terrien said, but it will require a change in attitude from Catholics who are too often comfortable with the way things have been — or haven’t been — done.

“I don’t think it will take a lot of financial resources; I just think it will take willing hearts,” Fr. Terrien continued. “I think the courage will be in people going to their family gatherings or at work and where people are standing around in coffee shops and not to be afraid to talk about their love for our Lord and what’s the right moral thing to do.”

Open to the Holy Spirit

Over the course of the synod weekend, synod members will meet in small groups to discern pastoral priorities for the Archdiocese of Detroit from among 46 different propositions, developed following the input of thousands of local Catholics in a series of parish dialogue gatherings held over the spring and summer.

After their deliberations, members will present their recommendations on the synod’s four overarching themes — individuals, families, parishes and Archdiocesan Central Services — to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, who will pray over them and use them to set the course for the local Church, likely in the form of a pastoral letter by Pentecost 2017.

“I don’t have a complete answer as far as how all this is going to turn out, because once we go over the propositions, the archbishop will take that and pray on it and come up with something,” Rogers said.

Jeff Dombrowski, a synod member from Sacred Heart Parish in Grosse Ile, said he doesn’t know what to expect from the synod deliberations, except that, “as I’ve gotten deeper in my faith, one of the things I’ve learned is that you really have to say, ‘whatever God wants.’”

12-synod-2“If we’re supposed to be chosen by the Holy Spirit, and our names were prayed over, I guess we just have to open ourselves up to what He’s trying to do,” Dombrowski said.

Dombrowski lamented that many Catholics are embarrassed to talk about their faith even within their own families, leading to a sense that church is only “a one-hour-a-week thing.”

“In our country, we’ve had it pretty well for so long, and people only turn to God out of need. Too many times we’ve filled that void with things, and we forget about God,” Dombrowski said. “The home is the first place we express our faith. A lot of times we forget that. We live it outside, and then we come home and don’t even talk about it.”

Sr. Mary Ellen Bennett, OP, a synod representative of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, said she’s helped spread the word to her fellow sisters and those who visit their Oxford-based motherhouse.

“One of the spiritual activities we do is we have a holy hour every week for the synod,” said Sr. Bennett.

Lessons of 1969

Sr. Bennett, who recalled the last archdiocesan synod in 1969 as “wide-ranging and very active” in its mission to implement the charges of Vatican II, said in her opinion, the Church needs to be more energetic in reaching out to those in need of the Gospel message, especially minorities and young people.

“We need to be where our people are, not where we’d like them to be,” Sr. Bennett said. “As I look around today, I don’t see very many people of color. The Church needs to be open to new things — new awarenesses, new learnings. We need to be aware of how things such as technology affects us.”

Fr. Terrien, who participated in the 1969 synod as a teenager, said he recalled the process as “really a lot of fun.”

“We had half a dozen home visits where we sat around someone’s dining room table with people of all ages, talking about our faith and what we’d like to see in the future,” Fr. Terrien said.

While elements such as music and preaching are important to evangelize effectively, it’s ultimately Christ himself who will renew his Church, Fr. Terrien said.

“It’s always thrown up in our faces that people are bored, so why come (to Mass)?” Fr. Terrien said. “We as Catholics know that the miracle we enjoy is feeding on the body and blood of our Lord. (Evangelization) is knowing that that miracle is taking place and how that can profoundly touch anyone’s life.”

While worldly and even diabolical attractions can hold someone’s attention for a time, Fr. Terrien said, eventually people will grow weary without something — or Someone — greater than themselves to hold onto.

“Do you say that about a joyful disciple of our Lord? No. It’s never boring, and it’s never empty,” he said. “It’s a great gift, and if we can share that gift with others we’ll be fulfilling what the synod was intended to be.”