In the Diocese of Portland, participation in the Synod on Synodality (For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission) was encouraged and conducted in a variety of ways. The effort was launched with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley, on November 21, 2021, and was accompanied by a letter from the bishop to parishes.
The various synodal structures of the diocese came together individually to reflect on a series of questions that were tailored to their particular group or groups. The bodies included the Diocesan Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council, Diocesan Episcopal Council, Catholic Charities Maine Board of Directors, representative groups and ministries (Hispanic Ministry, Faith Formation Personnel, College Students, Youth, Young Adults), and parish Pastoral Councils.
In addition, an online survey for parishioners and the general public in Maine was created, with participants given the chance to answer how the person of Jesus is most reflected in the Catholic Church, where the person of Jesus needs to be reflected more, and what signs they see of the Holy Spirit working to concretely show God’s love and mercy.
A committee of diocesan personnel received and reviewed the contributions submitted from the various pastoral councils, parish groups, and ministries that participated, as well as the online survey results. Several enlightening points emerged, including hopeful insights about the direction of the Church and challenges impeding progress.
Examining both the consultations and online survey, it is clear that the active Catholic community considers the celebration of the Eucharist the center of the parish, with service and stewardship opportunities serving as extensions of that which is the source and summit of Christian life. New methods of outreach, communication, and technology have allowed parishes to expand their offerings and impact. People are finding friendship and fellowship in parish communities, and the most successful parish councils are promoting listening to each other, praying with each other, and collaborating. These are first fruits of diocesan-wide efforts focused on regathering people who have been away from Mass due to the pandemic. The results from the synod consultation give focus to local efforts in the National Eucharistic Revival in the years ahead.
The Church is in need of healing and conversion, as well. Many young people are feeling underappreciated, leading to the lower numbers of young people actively engaged in parish life. The “That’s a way we’ve always done it” attitude, the same people filling many roles, and lay leaders or pastors resistant to change play a part in the disillusionment and alienation of people who might be interested in becoming more involved in their parishes. Internal communication between parishes and parishioners is an area that needs improvement, but the reality that some older parishioners have limited computer skills or access is a factor that must be considered. In addition, a shift from a survival approach to participatory leadership and a focus on growing must be made at some churches.
Fortunately, as part of this process, the Holy Spirit invited the local Church to grow in synodality thanks to the shared aspirations, ideas, and contributions of participants. Encouraging teamwork at the parish and cluster level through invitation and responsibility sharing will help build community, among churches and parishioners alike. Approaching parishioners who are not involved in parish activities, as well as non-practicing Catholics, with personal invitations and a spirit of flexibility will help create a shared ownership in a successful parish. It will also help develop the co-responsibility mindset that will lead parishioners to appreciate the shared mission of the Church and encourage growth in their own faith lives.
Promoting the voice of the youth in parishes, and making them understand they are appreciated and loved, is crucial to the future of the Church. They have shown a willingness and desire to participate in parish events, including Rosary gatherings, adoration, and service programs, but in some cases, have not received an invitation or encouragement to do so. This extends to college campuses where in cases of being supported, such as at the Newman Center at the University of Maine, young people have shown the capacity to serve as leaders spreading the hope and joy of the Good News into the world. Further encouraging their participation without fear of being ignored is a necessity.
As the Holy Father said, “Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.” Three themes emerged from the synodal process in Maine: celebration of the Eucharist is central, youth are the Church of now, not just the future, and co-responsibility. The Diocese of Portland looks forward to reviewing the results and discernment of our fellow dioceses and archdioceses as part of the Synod on Synodality. Over the next18 months we will have at least three more opportunities to be further guided by the Holy Spirit in creating and faithfully following a path of love, mercy, and synodality worthy of the local and universal Church.
A national synthesis of the common themes that emerged from synodal listening in 2022 will be available this Fall. The Vatican will draw on similar reports from all the bishop conferences around the globe to draft a working document for the international Synod of Bishops– called an instrumentum laboris. This working document will serve as the focus for a “continental stage” of synodal dialogue in early 2023 where the People of God are encouraged to move away from a merely temporal and spatial vision to adopt the dialogical approach existing between the Universal Church and the individual Christian communities of a single geography or group. These continental processes will again flow back to the Vatican to refine the final instrumentum laboris that will guide the October 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome. From there we are likely to receive an apostolic exhortation from the pope, calling us to deeper commitments to communion, participation, and mission.
To view the national synthesis released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on September 19, 2022, click here.