December 27, 2023, will be six years of my serving as Archbishop. During this time, I have had many consultations on family, youth, education, migrants and refugees, liturgy, catechesis, social justice, and church governance. It is clear from all our conversations that we are in a difficult moment of Church. Much courage is needed for the journey that is ahead.
Our numbers at weekend Masses have been falling for five or six decades now. In 2022, we had the sharpest fall in attendance because of Covid-19.
Keeping our young people connected to faith has been a great challenge also. Older people who were strong Catholics before, have become more marginal in their practice of the faith. And yet, many who were marginal have reactivated their faith. We are in a new situation.
Synodality: A New Orientation
Together with this context, Pope Francis has asked for a Synodal Church. This is a major directional change in the way we have done Church for the last 500 years. This new way of being Church needs leaders who patiently listen to each other and the whole people of God.
Leaders who can discern God’s will and make that the first priority in our decision-making, our budget and pastoral life. This requires new skills. The skills of discernment, listening, accompaniment, spiritual conversations, decision-making and taking.
Formerly in our councils and synods, we used a process of majority rule on most decisions. Now, we are asked to have a conversation in the Spirit and through this discern God’s will. This requires very different leadership skills.
During the last five years, we have been updating the governance structure of the Church to be agile and responsive to the challenges of the day. We have now collaboratively settled on this current structure.
When it became clear, one thing struck me: while we have persons dedicated and responsible to coordinate the other arms of the Church (the Chancellor for Governance, Episcopal Delegate for Commissions for Teaching, Judicial Vicar for the Tribunal), we do not have anyone dedicated and responsible to coordinate the sanctification arm of the Archdiocese, transforming it along the path of synodality.
A Director for Synodal Transformation
For one year now, the vicars and I have made a journey on this matter. We used a synodal way of listening and discernment. Our conclusion was that we needed to appoint and mandate a priest who has the skills set and capacity to lead this transformation of the Archdiocese along the lines of synodality.
The role of the Director of Synodal Transformation is a full-time role and is now established:
To accomplish this mandate, the Director of Synodal Transformation will have my full delegated authority to:
1) coordinate and transform the sanctification arm of the Archdiocese (See diagram)
2) coordinate the vicars for the pastoral transformation of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain
3) conduct parish visitations.
The Director of Synodal Transformation
At our Vicars’ meeting on September 5, 2023, we came to a unanimous decision to invite Fr Peter McIsaac to be the Director of Synodal Transformation in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.
Fr Peter has accompanied nine of our young priests for the last 30 months in a process of spiritual formation. From January 2018, he has accompanied the seminarians for their retreat, at least once per year. He has been offering eight-day silent retreats to priests and laity since 2019. This year, he would have offered nine of these retreats.
In May, he and Fr Jason Boatswain led the leadership day of formation for over 400 participants. He has also been assisting in the formation of lay spiritual directors. He has assisted the Youth Commission with training for spiritual accompaniment.
Over the next five years, the People of God in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain need to consciously pivot towards synodality: listening, spiritual conversations, accompaniment and discernment in decision–making. This is a new ecclesial culture that will require a pastoral conversion for all of us.
This is an exciting time for the Church as she moves onto a new stage. We have spent much time and energy to listen to God’s will in this. I pray that each of us will pray for this very important initiative and be open to this new time, where we seek to respond to God in a more intentional way.
Let us commend this initiative to the maternal care of Our Blessed Mother who constantly intercedes for us to her Son so that we may become the Church, He calls us to be.
Most Reverend Charles Jason Gordon
Archbishop of Port of Spain
September 12, 2023