Following is the Foreword by Archbishop Jason Gordon for the booklet prepared for the November 19, 2022, Synodal gathering.
Archbishop Anthony Pantin convoked the People of God in two assemblies, ten years apart: Assembly 77 and Assembly 88. Then between 2002 and 2009, Archbishop Gilbert convoked a synod in three sittings, 2003, 2005 and 2009.
So, when on October 10, 2021, Pope Francis formally convoked the universal Church to a “Synod on Synodality” under the theme: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, we had much experience to draw on.
Synod means “journeying together” and Pope Francis invited the whole People of God to become a synodal Church by patiently listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another.
He saw this process as vital for the renewal of the Church. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this process involves listening, dialogue, and community discernment, so every person can participate in discerning “the path we are called to walk together”.
Let’s Dream Together
According to the Synod Handbook (Vademecum), the Synod “is intended to inspire people to dream about the Church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission”.
On October 17, 2021, we introduced the Synod Team who had responsibility for spearheading the roll-out of the archdiocesan phase of this two-year process at a televised celebration of Mass at the Living Water Community Chapel.
On Saturday, November 27, 2021, we officially launched the Synod with Mass at the Minor Basilica of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The Synod Team took a deep-dive into the process, first preparing themselves to develop prayerfully that ‘synodal mentality’ and ‘we-mindset’ essential for the journey.
The team then reached out to the parishes, ecclesial communities, and other groups to select coordinators (three to five persons)—one of whom would be a youth representative—to lead the process in the parishes and within their communities.
Between December 2021 and January 15, 2022, we began training coordinators to implement the process in their communities. Parish Synod Coordinators responded with resilience, courage, and creativity despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and other difficulties.
Our people tapped into their innate tendency to use varied forms of creative expression to communicate, and produced original music compositions in various genres, and including dramatic presentations and the visual arts.
The Archdiocese also launched an exposition for youth, which invited them to use multiple artforms to depict the theme: I dream of Church being …. Over 100 entries were received displaying youthful enthusiasm in the portrayal of dreams for the Church of the future.
Parishes, commissions, ecclesial and religious groups conducted their conversations between February and March 2022, facing several challenges including the Covid-19 restrictions for in-person consultations.
Gatherings at that time were very restricted so the early engagement had to be online. This, together with the tight deadline from Rome, created anxiety and yet challenged innovation.
There were shortcomings in responding to the online approach to consultations. The older population was not as comfortable with it. Some found the questionnaires to be difficult; others that they were not all-inclusive.
And yes, there was the uncertainty that the reports submitted were accurate and a true reflection of what was shared. Overall, while responses were low in number, they were significant in indicating how a wide group of Catholics see their Church.
In July, our priests met in Mayaro to reflect on the Synod process and the mindset clergy is required to adopt on the journey to becoming a synodal Church in the Archdiocese.
If we are to be a synodal Church, our leaders must encourage participation, communion, and mission, while always listening to the People of God and discerning the direction we must go.
We rolled out the parish syntheses in October 2022, sharing them with parishioners and obtaining further feedback from those who were unable to participate in the process before. This new feedback will be considered by each parish as they begin planning their way forward.
I note that our young people, when they were eventually allowed into face-to-face sessions, were animated and, reportedly, could not stop talking. There may be lessons to learn to address the resounding concern for the void of ministry to youth expressed during the conversations.
Also, I note, the Synod created a space for the participation of non-Catholic leaders and faithful in general who willingly shared their views. A highlight was the gathering of Christian and other religious leaders, who willingly gave their perspective on the Roman Catholic Church.
Synthesis of Syntheses
Each parish, commission and ecclesial group endured, prepared, and submitted its parish synthesis in April 2022. All syntheses (over 60) were collated by the Synod Team (synthesised) into the Archdiocesan Synod Synthesis in May 2022 and presented to Vicars, commissions, ecclesial communities and religious.
The Archdiocesan Synthesis was submitted to the AEC in June 2022 and was incorporated into an AEC Synthesis along with the other Diocesan Synthesis from the Caribbean.
From the 60-plus syntheses, the team produced a ‘synthesis of syntheses’. This document identified seven overall themes that emerged from all the conversations in the Archdiocese, as follows, in no order of priority:
1. Improving Hospitality
2. Revitalising Governance and Leadership
3. Strengthening Youth Engagement
4. Improving Technology and Communication in Church
5. Faith Formation and Invigoration – Rescuing the Lost Sheep
6. Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue
7. How We Celebrate and Worship
These themes were sent to the parishes to discern prayerfully which one—if the Archdiocese was to do it very well in 2023—would position us well on the journey to becoming a synodal Church.
We have gathered the data from all the parishes and one theme has been recommended for focused attention in 2023 – 2024. This is the theme we are focusing on today.
If we can identify, as Church representatives, the strategic initiatives under this theme and some action steps under each strategic initiative, together, we will have charted the way forward for the Archdiocese and your parishes for the next two years.
I wish to commend the Archdiocesan Synod Team, Parish Synod Coordinators and their teams, ecclesial communities, and commissions for their resourcefulness in holding the conversations and building safe spaces for participants to speak freely and courageously, share stories of their joys and sadness, pains, and disappointments, and express their hopes and dreams for a synodal Church.
Sisters and brothers, the rolling out of the Synod process has succeeded in creating new and deeper relationships, building bridges and inspiring participants to dream about the Church we are called to become.