Pastoral Letter - Synodal Process
Christ, Us, Our Communities, Our Neighbourhoods
A Diocesan Synodal Process for 2018–2019
Pastoral letter of Archbishop Paul-André Durocher
Dear brothers and sisters of the archdiocese:
In his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” published almost five years ago, Pope Francis invited the whole Church to embark on a missionary journey. He encourages the faithful not close in on themselves but rather to turn to the world, to go forth and proclaim the Father’s lov for all his children.
Following my pastoral visit from 2011 to 2013, we responded to the Pope’s call as we resolutely and generously committed ourselves to developing attitudes that encourage the involvement of our brothers and sisters in the Church (“Free the Gifts”) in order to better “Share the Word.” I give thanks to the Lord for all the work done together to bring the missionary character of our Church to the fore.
Last year, I wrote a pastoral letter suggesting ways to continue moving forward in this missionary shift. We need to move from a pastoral style that limits itself to caring for the people who come to us, to a more dynamic and evangelizing style that takes the initiative and reaches out to others.
However, a question remains: can we do this? Our parish communities are aging and young people are becoming scarce. In the absence of candidates for the priesthood, we must rely on other countries to give us priests. Due to lack of resources, we cut into pastoral programs. People around us say that faith has become superfluous in our modern world, that the Church does not contribute much to society—even worse, it prevents society from advancing. Could it be that the Gospel has become so obsolete that Christ has nothing to say to the men and women of today? Are our parishes destined to disappear without leaving any other trace than an architectural heritage witnessing to a bygone era?
Faced with these dramatic but very real questions, I propose that all the parishes of the diocese engage with me in a major project: a synodal process that will run from October 11, 2018, until the end of 2019.
What does this involve? A synodal process gathers the whole community for consultation, reflection and decision-making. The adjective synodal comes from two Greek words: syn, which means “together,” and odos, meaning “road.” A synodal process allows us to “walk together” by listening to each another, praying with one heart and searching out the paths the Holy Spirit calls us to follow.
At the level of the universal Church, the Pope summons a Synod of Bishops about every three years to address a specific theme. This fall, for example, it will focus on “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”
Synods can also be held at the local level. An internet search reveals many examples of dioceses around the world that have undertaken such an exercise. Here in Gatineau, Bishop Adolphe Proulx launched a similar initiative in 1985 under the title, “Taking the Church to Heart. A Council for Gatineau-Hull.” The reflection focused on three main themes: belonging, co-responsibility and the option for the poor.
More than thirty years later, the time has come to take up this task once again. Faced with the questions that confront us, we must make choices and decide our priorities. Both the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council have proposed that we seek the answers to these questions collectively, throughout the diocese, rather than entrusting this task to a small team. At the beginning of June, the general assembly of priests, the English zone meet-up and the diocesan “Carrefour” validated this insight. By a very large majority, the participants confirmed that the organization of a diocesan synodal process is timely.
The title of our project reminds us of what is essential: “Christ, us, our communities, our neighbourhoods.”
- Everything begins with Christ, who gives meaning to our lives, calls us to grow in our relationship with him and sends us on a mission in the world.
- Obviously, this call and this mission is for all of us; every member of the diocese has their part to play.
- Our Christian communities—our parishes and other journeying groups—gather us to deepen and celebrate our relationship with Christ.
- They must also help us fulfill our mission in our social environments, the neighbourhoods and villages where we live our faith by sharing it with others as we strive to God’s justice, peace and joy in the world and witness through our lives.
What will be the precise goal of this 18-month process? To open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and turn to the future; to go forward joyfully and advance “along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are” (The Joy of the Gospel, no. 25); to discern how our parishes can best respond to the mission Christ entrusts to us.
How will we proceed? The synodal process will consist of three major phases, similar to how the Synod of Bishops is organized. The first phase will focus on looking objectively at our situation and identifying issues and questions of concern. The second phase will invite us to reflect on this reality in the light of Gospel values and our faith convictions. This should allow us to prepare a working document for the third phase—a series of diocesan meetings where delegates will discern priorities for the coming years and develop an action plan.
Here is the proposed schedule for the entire process.
October 11, 2018: launch of the process on the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church
Autumn 2018: Phase One—describing our current situation and identifying issues and questions
Christmas 2018: publication of a summary report of the first phase
Spring 2019: Phase Two—reflecting together on these issues and questions, and developing possible options for the future
June 2019: publication of a document outlining issues and options, which will be the subject of further discernment and discussion throughout the diocese
Autumn 2019: Phase Three—diocesan meetings to discuss options for action
Christmas 2019: publication of the final document which will determine the priorities and the actions required both at parish and diocesan levels.
During each phase, the coordinating team will involve as many people as possible. In view of the first phase, we are preparing the following elements:
• an internet questionnaire to seek out the opinions of all who wish to express their opinion concerning the life of the Church;
• consultative meetings at the zone and parish levels open to all the faithful where all will be invited to speak up, to listen to others, to be attentive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in each person and in our diocesan Church;
• focus groups for youth, seniors, young parents, immigrants and community leaders;
• statistical reports on demographic trends and the evolution of religious practice and financial support over the past decades.
The consultation process will be open, dynamic and transparent. I promise to release the final report and make it available to all.
I invite you to participate generously in this process. Follow us on our diocesan website. Send your comments and ideas to the e-mail address set up for this synodal process at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consult the inserts that will be published in your church bulletin. Talk about them with your friends. Attend the various sessions to make your opinions known. Your commitment to this process will be crucial to its success.
Finally, please bring this process to prayer. Only prayer can open us fully to the Spirit as we look to the future and fashion the communities God wants us to become.
Prayer for the Synodal Process
God our Father,
As Roman Catholics of the Outaouais region,
we want to continue together the pilgrimage of faith
undertaken in this diocese more than half a century ago.
Following Jesus both as individuals and as a community,
we want to create Covenant spaces between ourselves and for the world.
Sustain our desire to undertake together a true missionary shift.
Though the road markers be unclear and the path unmapped,
still the mysterious Walker of the road to Emmaus accompanies us always.
Guided by his Spirit, turned toward the future,
we can dream our communities of tomorrow.
Hear our prayer:
Our personal and communal journeys have led us this far;
may the synodal process allow us to take up the road together once again,
with renewed confidence, a new assurance and a new ardour,
for your glory, Father, and the salvation of the world.
+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau