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November 22, 2022

SynodTT: “Synod experience is like a rose garden”

By Kaelanne Jordan

Archbishop Jason Gordon has likened the synod experience to a rose garden. The roses, he said, presented positive experiences; thorns, the problems and obstacles that were endured. And the buds, the potential to explore.

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Some of the fruits were open dialogue, a process of healing of the pain, repentance, accountability, and transparency, the Archbishop said as he presented the Archdiocesan Synod Synthesis and the seven themes at the post-synod gathering, Saturday, November 19. The venue was the Centrum Auditorium, Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas.

Saturday’s gathering was to celebrate and share the Archdiocesan Synod Synthesis with the Synod assembly. In attendance were youth from the Synod Youth Team, representatives from each vicariate comprising clergy and faithful, and ecclesial communities.

From the 60 syntheses, the team produced a “synthesis of syntheses”. This document identified the seven overall themes, in no order, that emerged from all the conversations in the Archdiocese.

They are: Improving Hospitality; Revitalising Governance and Leadership; Strengthening Youth Engagement; Improving Technology and Communication in Church; Faith Formation and Invigoration – Rescuing the Lost Sheep; Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue; and How we Celebrate and Worship.

Archbishop Gordon shared that when he first read the synod synthesis, he had to take four deep breaths at the end of his reading. He read the document a fifth time. He said it wasn’t until the fifth reading, he was finally able to recognise that amidst the pain was an aspiration for a Church that people want us to be.

“What I hear through the synod syntheses was a call for pastoral conversion, for the conversion of our hearts.”

He commented that collectively, faithful must accept that when we start to listen, we may not always like what we hear.

“Right or wrong, this is how people feel and we have to feel with our people.”

Archbishop Gordon underscored the Synod team heard both sides. He shared some have shared their painful or negative encounters of discrimination, and prejudice felt

from Church, while others remarked ‘that wasn’t my experience, I’ve had a great experience of Church and my engagement with church was really good.’

The Archbishop said both the young people and elderly felt “estranged” from the Church. “Both ends of the spectrum felt they weren’t listened to, wasn’t catered to and ministered to as Church,” he said.

Referring to the responses emerging from the synodal process, the Archbishop explored some “pleasant” surprises. He mentioned the willing participation of non-Catholic leaders and non-Catholic faithful in general, the profound pain and woundedness within the Church, a resounding concern for the void of ministry to youth and the way “we have not really found the pathway to reach our young people.”

Leadership and governance

Some of the emerging themes included Synodality in Church leadership and governance. Commenting on this, the Archbishop said, “What we heard is that many times Catholics experienced the governance of the Church as a top-down kind of organisation where people that hold a leadership style….”

He opined that it is this same leadership style that has permeated the Church in too many ways at too many levels. “And this is not just clergy or priests or deacons, this is also leaders inside groups and parts of the Church that have this kind of clerical mentality that is talking down to people ….”

The Archbishop highlighted that responses collated indicated that persons see the Church as revolving around the priests and not the priests’ empowerment of people in co-responsibility to accept the mission ministry of the Church in deeper ways.

He added, “And at sometimes, what happens on the pulpit is not necessarily relevant to the lives of people. And that sometimes people leave the church uninspired by the Word of God ….and those are all moments of deep sadness for me,” the Archbishop said.

A cry from younger people

Archbishop Gordon pinpointed there was a “whole cry” from the younger generation.

“We can’t just see young people as moving furniture doing manual labour. That they have something to offer us as Church,” the Archbishop said. Youth he said, would like to be active participants in their religious community, not just spectators and ministered to.

He underscored, all of us are called to service and all are called to move tables and chairs, “but we are all on a journey to holiness.”

He outlined the importance of strengthening youth engagement. According to the Archbishop, youth and young adult members must be engaged in new creative and meaningful ways to grow in and live out the faith amid all the challenges. He referred to the rapid change of society which is being driven by technology. In a similar way, Church has to keep up with the rapid change.

He then made a call for youth to be included in the decision making at all levels of church – in parish councils, MATs, and in all groups of leadership. “We have to,” he beseeched.

Responding to his own question of why Archbishop Gordon underscored that contrary to the popular opinion that youth are the future of the Church, they are not, they are the “present” of the Church, to applause from those gathered.

He explained, “without their energy and vitality and without their courage and without their imagination, we will not be the church Christ wants us to be.”

Youth, the Archbishop said, desire community life that is open and inclusive and does not only revolve around the Mass. He commented that youth need more effective ways to be guided in their rites and passage of Catholicity.

The Archbishop observed, “Sometimes when you finish with Confirmation, they well confirmed, but they’re not well discipled and they haven’t become missionary disciples. That’s really the object of Confirmation, to form missionary disciples.”

Faith formation, the Archbishop said was a “big one, many people responded to that”. He surmised many just never had the opportunity for developing their faith and growing their faith. He reasoned faith formation is not knowing content, its about forming an encounter and desire of knowing Jesus Christ.

Saturday’s gathering included a small table discussion led by Shian Ottley-Reid, senior leadership development consultant.

She invited the small groups to practise meaningful, synodal conversations at their tables by sharing on the following questions: Having heard and prayed through the synthesis, what resonated more strongly with your lived experience of church, and what doesn’t? What tensions or conflicts emerge in you and your parish? Based on the above tensions/conflicts, which ones should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the synodal process in your journey?

The participants were then asked to identify which one theme of the seven that if the Archdiocese did it very well, in 2023, will help us to become closer to being a synodal church.