The Catholic Church’s newly opened worldwide Synod presents an opportunity for Catholics to come together and engage in a thoughtful conversation about how best to fulfill the church’s mission, according to Bernard Grizard, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Pastoral Services. In a world filled with so much polarization and division, the invitation for all the faithful to come together around a common mission is most welcome, Grizard said.
“By journeying together in this Synod process … I think it will also give a sense of unity, as the whole church coming together. I think it kind of emphasizes the importance of listening to each other as we journey together,” said Grizard, who is one of two diocesan representatives for the Synod, along with Shannon Kilbridge, assistant director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Services.
Although this Synod, with the theme For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission,” has just begun, synods certainly are not a new concept in the Catholic Church, Grizard said.
“There have been synods throughout the history of our church, even in the early church,” he noted.
According to the Vatican website, a synod is a process through which bishops gather information about a specific topic, discuss their findings and draw upon those discussions to formulate a document, which is presented to the pope for approval.
Locally, many Catholics gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral Oct. 10 as Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, in union with Pope Francis, opened the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
Yet that liturgy marked only the beginning of the local phase of the worldwide Synod, Grizard said.
An online survey currently is being developed and will be available soon at dor.org/synod. For the next few months, this website will be the go-to place for local Catholics who would like to learn more about the Synod and how they may participate in it, Grizard said.
The website currently features links to the Vatican-issued preparatory document and handbook for the Synod, as well as photos from the local Oct. 10 Mass and a video message from Bishop Matano. Information will be added to the website frequently as the Synod process proceeds, Grizard said.
By mid-November facilitators will convene a series of listening sessions throughout the Diocese of Rochester’s 12 counties. These sessions, which will continue through February, are intended to ensure that everyone who wants to contribute input throughout the process is able to do so, Grizard said. It is likely that many though not all of the listening sessions will be parish-based, he added.
“With the focus of the Synod on wanting to hear different voices, we should be focusing on groups that may have been voiceless, more in the shadows in the local church. We should be able to reach out to them and listen to them,” he said.
Some such voiceless groups are people in the prison system as well as members of small cultural communities within the diocese, Grizard said, noting that care is being taken to include these groups. The team of listening-session facilitators includes people with ties to prison ministries, the local Filipino and Vietnamese communities, and parishioners of rural, suburban and urban church communities. The team also includes priests, deacons, women religious and laypeople who are affiliated with a number of local parishes, schools and ministries, Grizard said.
The format for the listening sessions will vary greatly from one community to another, depending on the makeup of each community as well as its unique needs and scheduling constraints, he said.
“I think we want to leave as much room for creativity in terms of how a faith community is listening to each other,” Grizard said. “I think the Holy Spirit is at work in this, so let’s not try to control the Holy Spirit.”
Facilitators will submit the results of the listening sessions to the diocesan Synod team by Feb. 28, and the team will compile those findings into a 10-page report by the end of March, Grizard said. The team will submit the diocesan report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in turn will prepare its own report to the Vatican based on the findings of American dioceses, he said.
A similar process will take place in nations all around the globe, and the Synod process also will include work and collaboration on the continental level before concluding in October 2023, when bishops from around the world will gather at the Vatican.
Grizard said he expects the information-gathering phase will be different in each country, just as it will be different in each local community. Such differences are a good thing, he added.
“It’s healthy, because it’s a variety of gifts that make us stronger and richer, but the important thing is to be united, to be one as we journey together,” Grizard said, noting that the process of coming together with other Catholics likely will be just as valuable as the eventual documents that will come out of the Synod.
“It’s an exciting time. It’s filled with hope,” he said.