In October, 2021, Pope Francis formally opened a two-year process called a “synod on synodality,” officially known as Synod 2021–2023. Bishops from around the world have been tasked with consulting their parishioners, and other Christians, and reporting back at the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, 2023.
In this Synod, Pope Francis wants to hear from the whole Church about what is happening in local parishes and what we should all be doing to help make our parishes better. Archbishop Damphousse describes it as a spiritual process of listening and discerning how God is calling us to be the Church in the 3rd millennium.
Even before engaging in the synodal process, we at St. Maurice had already begun a strategic planning process for parish renewal with a view to making missionary disciples. This process has been very much one of listening to the Lord and moving in the direction He is laying out before us, following a rigorous planning sequence, consulting ministry leaders and other active parishioners at various points, and communicating our planning work openly with the parish as a whole and inviting their feedback.
Our synodal summary report reflects this strategic planning process, from the initial baseline parish survey we carried out in winter 2019 to the culminating planning report that will be released to the parish in June. We followed the bulleted reporting format requested by the Archdiocese and answered the questions as fully as we could within the word limit. We submitted our report on May 4, 2022, and received confirmation that it was received by the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese hopes to share its summary report, based on feedback from all the parishes in the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, by July, 2022.
Please describe the context of your group discussions, including number of participants and aspects of diversity.
Fall 2019 - Parish Council ran the Flourishing Congregations Survey parish-wide (434 respondents = about 30% parishioners), made a summary of results available to parishioners, and received feedback.
Apr 2021 – PC presented proposed Mission, Vision and Values statements to 70 parishioners involved in parish ministry and received feedback, including SWOT analysis.
Feb 2022 – PC ran a 2nd session with 30 parishioners to present vision-related initiatives and received feedback.
Mar 2022 – PC presented vision-related initiatives to the wider parish through an annual report, pastoral updates (video and written), and a parish-wide presentation (about 50 participants) followed by discussion groups (with 20 people).
May 2022 – PC is running a workshop for ministry leaders/workers (50-70 people), to update people on current initiatives followed by discussion in ministry-based focus groups, where they will discuss how their ministry area can support the new mission and vision.
In your group's discussion, which points of view seem to be held in common on the experiences of Church? Include other points of view were mentioned less but are noteworthy?
• We are a conservative Catholic parish, faithful to traditional teachings.
• We are a neighbourhood parish, drawing parishioners from adjacent neighbourhoods and from around the city. This makes for a family feel but can also make us a bit closed to newcomers.
• We have many young families, but many of our most faithful volunteers and donors are aging. We need to pass the torch to younger generations but have no clear succession planning yet.
• Parishioners often have the unrealistic expectation that the priests should be able to do everything and be available 24-7.
• Many parishioners seem happy with the status quo - they’re happy if Masses are running and sacraments are being offered, with no thought of becoming more missional.
• The parish contains various interest groups who want specialized programming, e.g., for children, youth, 20-30s adults, families, women, men, seniors, shut-ins, etc.
• Some parishioners have had a vibrant charismatic encounter with the Holy Spirit while others have to think back to their confirmation to recall anything about Him.
• People say they are open to change but in reality many are resistant or slow to embrace change.
• The term “evangelization” is not well understood by many parishioners; many are nervous about what they might be asked to do.
What did participants have to say about areas where the Church is in need of healing and conversion?
Evangelization – For generations the Church has sacramentalized Catholics but neglected to evangelize them and have also neglected taking the Good News of Jesus into the world. Only a small minority of Catholics have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus and are comfortable talking to others about Him.
Community Outreach – Our parish is weak in identifying and serving the needs in our surrounding neighbourhood.
Leadership – Priests are trained primarily to offer sacraments, not to manage a parish and mobilize and train lay leaders and volunteers.
Consumer Catholics – 6% of parishioners account for 94% of the work and donations in a traditional Catholic parish. Our parish has a small but strong core of people committed to our vision of making missionary disciples. Many more attend Mass but are not active in ministry.
Social Issues – Catholics need formation in how to deal pastorally (not judgmentally) with issues such as divorce, LGBTQ2S+, assisted suicide, abortion, and liberal sexual practice.
An Aging Church – 45% of our parishioners are at least 60 years old. We need to continue to serve them while attracting and retaining younger adults.
Innovation – The Church continues to operate in traditional ways and misses opportunities to reach people in innovative and culturally responsive ways.
Messaging - The Church needs to do more about directing its own message, rather than leaving it to biased media.
Through listening to the dreams, desires, and aspirations for the Church expressed by participants and through discernment, in what ways is the Holy Spirit guiding the Church to grow in synodality.
We understand synodality to mean “"the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God"
The Holy Spirit is guiding us to:
• Balance "maintenance" (inward looking) and "mission" (outward looking)
• Remain faithful to Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the Magisterium, embodied in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, and summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
• Open our hearts and minds fully to His work (the work of the Holy Spirit) in our individual lives and in the parish
• Continue to strengthen our Masses and Sacraments as key means of worship and unity
• Foster authentic Christian community that challenges us in our faith journeys
• Make multiple opportunities for people to encounter Jesus and place Him at the centre of their lives
• Move beyond parish doors to take the Lord’s love and light into our surrounding neighbourhood, our own spheres of influence, and beyond
• Engage and activate parishioners to serve the Lord and the parish joyfully, using their dispositions, abilities, charisms, and experience for strengths-based service, and to give to the Lord’s work financially out of gratitude and joy
• Develop the principle of servant leadership and raise up and train lay leaders
• Practice intentional discipleship, whereby multiple opportunities are offered to parishioners to grow in holiness and mission
• Practice clear and frequent communication in support of our mission