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Making the dream of a synodal Church a reality

Q: Archbishop J, could you unpack your dream Church?

The truth is, my dream Church is our dream Church. It has become clearer over the last 12 years in my role as bishop. It arose from my many conversations with groups, pastoral councils, priests, vicars, educators, religious and lay consecrated, families, and leaders in the Church and society.

My dream is a fruit of synodal listening, even before the Holy Father called a synod on Synodality.

In January 2018, a month after installation, we began a process of pastoral planning, consisting of six pillars: (1) Youth (2) Family (3) Catholic Education (4) Parish (5) Leadership in Church and society and (6) clergy and vocation. We continue to work on these areas.

In 2020, during Covid-19, we brought over 45 church leaders to journey together, meeting monthly for three hours online. During this time significant shifts in paradigm and importance occurred.

Again, it was a synodal journey where leaders contributed to the thinking of the Church and its development. What emerged was a formation agenda which included pivots to (1) the domestic Church (2) an integral model, and (3) a new Catholic culture.

In November 2022, as we discerned with Church leaders, in synodal style, the way forward. The theme building community, inclusivity and dialogue emerged and was seen as a way marker on the journey to synodality, a most important next step, which was captured in the Pastoral Letter Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue (2022).


Pivot to the domestic Church

Domestic Church: In our conversations it became clear we needed to change our pastoral locus from the parish to the primordial cell of society, the first community—the domestic Church.

The family is called to be a community of life and love; it is where we first learn community and inclusivity. If we get the family right, we will get the parish and the nation right.

To build community we need to mission the domestic Church, that is to help the family find and live its identity. It will then find its mission as a community of life and love.

For the long-term success of our mandate, transforming the family is vital. This is a strategic shift of great importance. To help us all to understand this shift more fully, I wrote, Transforming the Caribbean Family and Society.

The integral model of the Church on mission proposes that the parish, ecclesial communities, schools, and movements all join hands for the missioning of the domestic Church.

In this model, families also join hands for the same end. And as families discover their identity as domestic Church, they, in turn, work hand in hand with the parish, ecclesial communities, schools and movements to transform these very agencies. The model here is the Body of Christ, with all its parts working interdependently for the good of the mission.

The Church, therefore, imaged as the family of God, is called to understand itself as a family of families. The real power of the Church is in the depth of discipleship in the family, living as a domestic Church.

In this light, the missionary focus of the Church is seen in the transformation of the family, who in turn transforms the relationships within the groups, the parish, the ecclesial and religious communities extending to the margins of the Church and society. In this model of development, each family is on pilgrimage to become a domestic Church, so none is excluded.


New Catholic Culture


All culture is defined by practices, values, and beliefs—the deep substructure that give them their logic for existence. Our countless conversations led us to identify the elements of a new Catholic Caribbean culture.

At the first level are our practices, the four “devotions” identified in Acts 2:42–47: teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking of the bread and the prayer. Through growth in these devotions and living out our vocation consciously, God leads the person through the stages of human and spiritual development resulting in mystical union between the person and God. In this God-human relationship, God is the principal initiator at every stage.

We envision four stages of faith formation: (1) discerning God’s call (vocation) and finding the courage to live it; (2) the individual’s striving to become the best version of himself or herself (Integral Development/the universal call to holiness); (3) living missionary discipleship with integrity and generosity (stewardship and evangelisation); and (4) becoming mystics with a deep interior life (mystical union).

Imagine these four levels of discipleship at every age (0–19, 20–35, 36–55, 56+) creating a continuous cycle of depth, growth, and transformation.

The second level concerns our values—Integral Human Development (IHD) as the vocation of the Church, proposed by St Pope Paul VI (1967). He envisaged IHD as the glue (value system) holding all things Catholic together. This was raised to further prominence by Pope Benedict XVI.

The model stresses the Church has a vocation to seek the development of each person, and every dimension of the human person. It sees each person as capable of significant growth and development in all areas of his or her life—intellect, emotional, spiritual, and physical. It requires incremental steps in each area and consistent growth over all of one’s life.

To describe this Matthew Kelly coined the phrase—becoming the best version of yourself. Remember the best version of yourself is a saint.

At the third level, the deepest level, are our beliefs. We believe in a God who creates, redeems, and calls each person to his or her unique vocation. Each person responds to God by discerning his or her vocation and living it with courage. This requires putting God’s will above all else.

In this process of discernment, the individual takes incremental steps and assists others to do the same. Central here is the belief that God has a vocation for each of us and equips us through the Holy Spirit to live it. Finding and living our vocation is our highest good and path to happiness, authentic growth, and holiness. (See the AEC document Towards a Framework of Integrated Pastoral Life)


Formation Agenda

The new culture requires a new formation agenda, which was also the fruit of our synodal conversations.

  1. Spiritual:
  2. Form the whole people of God to be missionary disciples capable of deep relationships and living synodality.
  3. Form all leaders in spiritual leadership, discernment, and relational skills to lead a synodal Church.
  4. Family: Invite, accompany and equip all families to journey towards a domestic Church—a community of life and love renewing the Church from within.
  5. Catholic Parish:
  6. Transform the parish into a family of families, a relational model with the capacity to form missionary disciples and the domestic Church.
  7. Form all leaders in the skill of discernment and “Conversation in the Spirit” as the usual way of doing ministry and mission in the Church.
  8. Catholic School:
  9. Form all principals and teachers to be missionary disciples, steeped in the philosophy of Catholic education. They work with parents/guardians to ensure each child achieves his/her full potential and the transformation of their school.
  10. Intentionally transform the schools that are underperforming in urban and rural communities so that each child achieves his/her full potential.


The formation team will begin by engaging all those in formation in the Archdiocese to build a culture of formation that is inclusive, missionary, and strives for excellence.