Synod process aims to be collaborative, wide-reaching and led by Holy Spirit

| June 6, 2019 | 0 Comments

In autumn 2015, Archbishop Bernard Hebda was apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, an interim role to help the local Church transition between archbishops. He held 10 listening sessions around the archdiocese to gather information for the next archbishop — only to have Pope Francis appoint him to the job the following March.

During those listening sessions, the archbishop was struck by people’s care for the Church, their willingness to share their experiences and ideas, and their hopes for the future, despite wounds inflicted by the clergy sex abuse scandal.

He had planned to recommend to the incoming archbishop that he hold a synod once he was appointed here — and the idea remained after Archbishop Hebda was given the role. Now, four years later, the time is right, he said, and planning is well underway, with Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens the chairman of a 19-member executive team commissioned with determining and executing the logistics of the pre-synod process and the synod itself.

The central goal of that process has been to craft an archdiocesan-wide discernment process that allows the Holy Spirit to speak.

“A synod is a consultation process that the Church gives as a tool for a bishop to be able to discover what the faithful and others think about particular topics,” Bishop Cozzens explained. Archbishop Hebda wants to use a synod to identify pastoral priorities that can direct the Church in the coming years, he added.

Therese Coons, the executive committee director, calls the synod a “spiritual strategic plan” for the archdiocese. Fellow committee member Debbie Keller, former president of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, thinks of it as a family meeting within the local Church, where the conversation is informed by members’ ideas and experiences, rather than assumptions.

The synod is expected to take place over Pentecost weekend in 2021 and involve around 500 invited delegates from across the archdiocese. The “pre-synod” process leading up to the synod begins with a June 8 Mass, but will get underway in earnest with a series of more than 20 prayer and listening events this autumn and winter. The three-hour events have been organized to take place in each part of the archdiocese and at various days and times to make them accessible to as many people as possible, Coons said.

The aim of the pre-synod prayer and listening events is for Archbishop Hebda, Bishop Cozzens and the synod’s consultative bodies to hear the needs expressed by Catholics and to discern with the Holy Spirit which topics should be addressed at the synod.

This approach is unique to the archdiocese’s synod and pre-synod process, Bishop Cozzens said.

“Many other dioceses have done very successful synods recently,” he said. In those other dioceses, he added, the bishops and their leadership determined the synods’ themes at the onset. “What’s unique to our process is that Archbishop Hebda has decided he doesn’t want to determine those priorities, but wants to spend time broadly listening to the people to determine those priorities,” he said.

Archbishop Hebda described the local pre-synod and synod process as following Pope Francis’ “listening Church” model. “It’s the confidence that comes from believing that the Holy Spirit works in the faithful, and it’s in sharing those things that are most important to us that we’re able to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The executive committee decided to dedicate a year to the prayer and listening process. Once the priorities are identified, a second year will be dedicated to listening to Catholics speak to the particular concerns and ideas around those priorities through a parish consultation process — which will include small groups — and a deanery consultation process, leading up to the synod assembly itself.

Also unique to the local synod is the parish-centered approach, said Father Joseph Bambenek, assistant director of the synod and outgoing pastor of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake. “Recognizing the workload already carried by pastors and parish staff, the parish processes are being intentionally designed to minimize the burden placed upon pastors and parish staff.”

In addition to the executive team, other groups, such as the recently formed Lay Advisory Board and Priest Synod Advisory Group, are also assisting the pre-synod process.

Canon law values consultation, especially for a diocesan bishop,

said Amy Tadlock, a canon lawyer, director of the archdiocese’s tribunal and a member of the synod’s executive committee. It mandates that the bishop consult advisory bodies, such as the diocese’s college of consultors or presbyteral council, before making certain decisions. The synod is a means for the diocesan bishop — in the case of the archdiocese, Archbishop Hebda — to expand his base of consultation, she said.

The local pre-synod consultation process outlined by the executive committee — including the fact that the synod’s topics are not predetermined by archdiocesan leadership — is very exciting, Tadlock said. “It speaks to the importance of the role of the laity,” she said. “This is actually a really exciting time for the lay faithful to be involved and to exercise this right that they have.”

The synod’s leaders are hoping to hear not only from Catholics who are active in their parish and regularly attend Mass, but also from those who have irregular Church participation, have left regular practice of the faith or otherwise feel disconnected from the Church.

Catholics throughout the archdiocese should care about the synod and participate in the pre-synod process “because it’s their Church — they are the Church,” Bishop Cozzens said.

He said it “does take an act of faith to believe God works through his Church,” but there are markers in the discernment process that give confidence the Holy Spirit is guiding it. It will always speak in concert with what it has already said through the Church, he said. It will also show itself through its nine fruits, listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

“We can surround the process in prayer and trust in the power of that prayer to bring us new insights and new light,” he said. To that end, Archbishop Hebda established a 26-member prayer team specifically for the synod that began meeting monthly seven months ago to reflect, pray before the Blessed Sacrament and share what they were hearing. And that’s also why the pre-synod process is officially opening with a Mass of the Holy Spirit on the Vigil of Pentecost, the Church’s commemoration of Christ sending the Holy Spirit to his Apostles, and why the synod will take place over Pentecost weekend in 2021.

Archbishop Hebda emphasized that the synod isn’t just an “organizational structure,” but rather a process that is rooted in the Catholic faith.

“The goal isn’t the synod,” he said. “The goal is renewal that takes place after the synod.”

Bishop Cozzens said he expects the pre-synod process and the synod to result in several “byproducts” that will strengthen the local Church, such as unity, healing, evangelism, re-engagement, catechesis and hope. He and other committee members said they’ve been inspired by the multi-year V Encuentro process recently undertaken in the U.S. by Latino Catholics. It involved local and regional meetings that informed a larger gathering.

Executive committee member Estela Villagrán Manancero held various leadership roles in V Encuentro. She is excited for the local Church to engage in similar consultation and discernment, because she found it to be an experience of “the Church fully alive.”

“The listening sessions will bring hope for everyone, because at that moment they’re all dreaming about what the Church could be, this new way of being Church,” said Manancero, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Latino Ministry.

Fellow committee member Yen Fasano, a Catholic speaker who is also part of the prayer team, said she has confidence in the process because it’s been driven by prayer. “What is special about our bishops’ (vision) is that it’s not just this to-do list, and it’s not just an action course to take, but that it’s a very meaningful and purposeful process (meant) to be inclusive of our entire Catholic Church,” she said, “so that everyone has a voice and an opportunity to take ownership of their faith and where it is that the direction and the priorities of the archdiocese should be set to best serve our local Church in the upcoming years.”

Her perspective was echoed by Pat Millea, a member of the executive committee and prayer team who is the senior high youth director at St. Joseph in West St. Paul.

“It gives the bishops a chance to listen in a really focused and particular way, (and) it gives the faithful a chance to speak in a way that is genuine and in a way that they know they’re being heard, which I think is really valuable,” he said. “It gives the Holy Spirit a chance to work in both ways.”


Begins the pre-synod process

Held at parishes and other sites across archdiocese


Held at parishes and other sites across archdiocese

MAY 31
Marks the beginning of second year of pre-synod process

Archbishop Hebda announces topics that will shape synod

Small groups meet in parishes to pray and discuss synod topics


Parish representatives meet at deanery (regional) level to pray and discuss synod topics

MAY 21-23
Invited delegates from across the archdiocese meet to discern synod topics and vote on recommendations for the archbishop

NOV. 21
Anticipated publication of pastoral letter from Archbishop Hebda addressing synod’s topics with pastoral plan to shape following 5-10 years

Read more about the synod


Category: Archdiocesan Synod